Faces of Baseline

Friday, June 29, 2018
By Emily Ford

 

One year after joining the Project Baseline study, the first participants enrolled by the Duke University School of Medicine celebrated their study anniversary by reflecting on the journey so far and sharing their hopes for the years to come.

The study is the first initiative of Project Baseline, an ambitious effort to develop a well-defined “baseline” of human health, and a rich data platform to help researchers better understand health and disease and the transitions between them. Duke, Verily, Stanford Medicine, and Google are collaborating on the study, which is enrolling approximately 10,000 people and following them for at least four years.

John French, 67 and retired, proudly tells people he’s “participant no. 1” whenever he talks about the Project Baseline study. The first person to enroll at Duke’s Kannapolis location on June 29, 2017, French said he hopes his participation will improve the lives of people he may never know. 

“New technology will play a big role in medicine, and Project Baseline is part of that future. It feels good because I’m helping to make history,” he said. “I want people to have a good quality of life throughout their entire life, even their last years. If we can contribute to that through Project Baseline, that will be the best outcome.” 

French, who served in the military for 22 years, became keenly interested in health and medicine after four-way bypass heart surgery in 2013. He has a family history of heart disease and cancer, and he remembers being hospitalized as a child for ailments like mumps and measles. 

Now, he works out every day, watches what he eats and enjoys staying up-to-date on medical research.

“Ten years ago, I would not be talking like this,” he said.

Ashley Dunham, 46, was the first person to join the Project Baseline study at the Durham location on July 13, 2017. As managing director of Duke’s Center for Population Health Sciences, Dunham has a passion for finding ways to improve people’s health. 

“Baseline is a great way for me to make a contribution. I’ve enjoyed relatively good health my entire life,” she said. “I became interested in the study because of the potential to make discoveries about health and disease sooner, particularly regarding the onset of cardiovascular disease and cancer.” 

Dunham said she hopes the Project Baseline study will help researchers develop less invasive ways to not only treat sick people but also monitor healthy people on a more continuous basis. 

“If we could capture information during daily activity in a way that is less invasive than something like a blood test, healthcare providers could make discoveries sooner,” she said. “That could lead to earlier treatments and better outcomes.”

Both Dunham and French said they are looking forward to their annual study visit and returning to the places where they made history as Duke’s first Project Baseline study participants.