In Brief
Google's Life Sciences and the American Heart Association plan to offer $50 million to a winning team that comes up with the best plan to cure heart disease.
KILLER FUNDING FOR KILLER DISEASE

Cardiovascular disease is a worldwide killer. According to the World Health Organization, 17 million people succumb to this disease every year, and that number is continually increasing. This is an issue for a number of individuals, from those with insulin resistance to those who have a family history of the disease. Ultimately, if individuals are properly diagnosed, they can treat the condition with medicines and lifestyle changes, which help to manage the disease; however, there is no cure.

Fortunately, a number of individuals and organizations are fighting back.

This month, Google and the American Heart Association (AHA) announced that they have put up $50 million in funding in an effort to find a cure for the disease. The amount is a big one, but then, the disease is a big problem.

At present, the AHA is  the largest funder of cardiovascular research in the US outside of the federal government, and the Association says this new program will be its most heavily funded initiative in nearly a century. It will begin accepting applications by January with a target deadline of February 14th or Valentine’s Day.

To get a shot at $50 million, the research idea has to fit on a single page. Furthermore, Google won’t take a financial or intellectual property stake in the research results.

MOONSHOT AND A NEW FUNDING MODEL

Unlike previous funding models, where money is spread around to many teams (an approach Google traditionally employs, but has not translated well to basic scientific research), this time, the money will go to only one team for five years of research. “Traditional research funding models are often incremental and piecemeal, making it difficult to study a long-term, multifaceted subject,” said Andrew Conrad, CEO of Google’s Life Sciences, in a statement. “AHA and Google Life Sciences have committed to a bold new approach.”

Google is known for providing large funds for projects or research that don’t work out. They are often referred to as “moonshots,” and they are great when they work out. But since science is an incremental and layered process, big money don’t often lead to breakthrough results.  However, Conrad  hopes that the program will accelerate the field of heart research, just like Google’s pioneering self-driving car program eventually compelled the entire automobile industry to follow its lead.

Though its a moonshot-type approach, Google’s funding might just work in the field of heart disease research, especially with today’s rapid advancements in technology. Researcher Gregory Graf of the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center says: “We have the capacity to make very precise measurements of things that, up until very recently, we’ve not been able to take a look at. We live in an era where we can generate very large quantities of data. What we don’t have are very good tools to make sense of it.” That’s something Google is interested in and good at – giving people the tools and the means.