Apple could use ResearchKit to collect DNA for medical studies

Lindsey Caldwell - May 7, 2015, 4:30 am CDT
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Apple could use ResearchKit to collect DNA for medical studies

iPhones can track a myriad of data from your everyday life. From your footsteps to your heart rate, we relay a lot of data without ever having to opt-in. Apple is looking to gather a new type of information from its users–DNA. Apple is planning to release apps, using its new ResearchKit developer tools, to help hospitals and research teams conduct clinical trials and other medical research from their iPhones, and genetic testing is just another piece of that puzzle.

If you want to join Apple’s latest genetic studies, it’s as simple as spitting in a cup, and sending the saliva to an Apple-approved lab for advanced genetic sequencing. According to one source, Apple’s end goal is to “enable the individual to show and share” genetic data with various researching entities.

The first of the Research Kit apps is mPower, designed to log a user’s Parkinson’s symptoms, relaying the information back to scientists for analysis. Thousands of people reportedly signed up for the study in the first week.

Apple is purported to have and additional two ResearchKit studies planned in which partnering research teams will collect and test DNA. One study will pair iPhone data collected by mothers-to-be with genetic testing, in the search for causes of premature birth.

Collecting DNA seems like a big departure from Apple’s traditional fare, but it’s really just step in the evolution of Apple’s ResearchKit tools from its HealthKit. Earlier this year IBM and Apple paired up as Apple incorporated supercomputer, Watson, into its HealthKit and ResearchKit developer tools, with a goal of quickly analyzing the masses of data from clinical trials.

So far, Apple isn’t collecting any DNA data itself–its research partners are handling the actual genetic material. Apple could be working its way towards direct-to-consumer genetic testing, joining the ranks of 23andMe and providing customers with details ancestral history as well as genetic risk-factors for certain diseases. 23andMe has DNA profiles of almost 1 million customers. If Apple ever tests the waters in consumer-end DNA collection, it could have an advantage with its built-in customer base from over 700 million iPhone sales.

Source: MIT Technology Review


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