“All of Us” Project to Use Fitness Trackers to Study One Million People From Their Genome to Lifestyles

November 14, 2017 – The Scripps Research Institute will be handing out fitness trackers to help in the U.S. National Institute of Health‘s (NIH) “All of Us” research project which was kicked off in June of this year. Volunteer participants, healthcare providers, data research centres, and technology companies are all involved. This major effort hopes to map one million genomes and track the lifestyle and environments of those one million in an effort to advance the field of precision medicine.

What is “precision medicine?”

Is it something new? Not really. When I give my blood which is A+, it is matched to recipients with the same blood type. That is precision medicine. But what’s different now is that precision medicine is associated with an individual’s genomic map, as well as the study of that person’s environment and lifestyle choices. We know today that many diseases have genetic roots. Others can be impacted by environmental changes which can trigger a gene in your DNA map to switch on or off. This is referred to as epigenetics, the alteration of our genetics by environment and lifestyle.

The combination of the genome and studying the person’s epigenetics’ profile should give medical researchers and doctors a better understanding of causes, prevention, and treatment of diseases. And the use of the word “precision” refers to targeting the individual rather than a one-size fits all approach that remains common in medicine to this day.

So How Will the Fitbit Fit?

For my wife’s birthday this summer she was given a Fitbit. She wanted a device to inspire her to be more active and the impact was immediate. In fact, it drove me crazy as she counted her daily steps and would even walk in place in our apartment if she was missing her daily targets. It got to a point where she was almost obsessive about tracking her daily progress on her smartphone and glancing at her wrist every hour on the hour. I even put a step counter on my smartphone and began tracking my daily numbers until the app clearly started making distance and count errors. I have since removed it but have not stopped my daily walks.

The “All of Us” project plans initially to give out 10,000 Fitbit trackers to collect heart rate, physical activity, and sleep behaviour. This information in the project today is collected by those in the project making office visits and responding to questionnaires. With the Fitbit, however, the wearable device will provide precise lifestyle and environmental data. The Fitbit models chosen include the Charge 2 and Alta HR and will be made available for one year. When asked about Fitbit’s participation, Adam Pellegrini, General Manager of Fitbit Health Solutions, stated, “As part of the global shift towards precision medicine, wearable data has the potential to inform highly personalized healthcare”...and…“Through this historic initiative, we will be able to see the role that Fitbit data can play on the path to better understanding how individualization can help to prevent and treat disease.”

Currently, Fitbits are being used in biomedical research including clinical trials and funded research, with 482 publications taking advantage of the wearable data the devices collect to study diabetes, cardiovascular health, oncology, mental health and post-surgical recovery.



All of Us project plans to hand out 10,000 Fitbits like the one seen here as part of a one-year study to collect wearable health and lifestyle data. (Photo credit: Fitbit)

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...