The iPhone Could Become a Tool in Genetic Studies

Last year, Apple started taking steps to make its devices indispensable for “digital health.” In its latest version of the iOS operating system, there is an app called Health which contains fields for more than 70 types of health data. Apply has partnered with IBM to develop health apps for nurses and hospitals.

Apple is collaborating with U.S. researchers to launch apps that would offer some iPhone owners the chance to get their DNA tested. The apps are based on ResearchKit, a software platform that Apple introduced in March that helps hospitals or scientists run medical studies on iPhones by collecting data from the devices sensors or through surveys. The first five ResearchKit apps quickly recruited thousands of participants in a few days.

Apple is not going to directly collect or test DNA itself; this will be done by academic partners. Instead, the data will be maintained by scientists in a computing cloud, although certain findings could appear directly on consumers’ iPhones. The planned DNA studies would not look at a person’s whole genome, but would look at 100 or fewer medically important disease genes, known as a “gene panel.” If these targeted tests were done on a large scale, it would cost no more than a few hundred dollars each.

One study that could get a boost from the iPhone is a joint undertaking by Sage and Mount Sinai, the Resilience Project, which is trying to discover why some people are healthy even though their genes say they should have some serious inherited diseases. This project has already searched through DNA data that had been previously collected from more than 500,000 people. As of last year, it had identified about 20 such unusual cases but the Resilience Project was having difficulty contacting these people because their DNA had been collected anonymously. By using the iPhone apps, recruiting people and ongoing contact would make such studies easier for the projects.

Genes for Good, is one study that was launched this year by the University of Michigan which uses a Facebook app to recruit subjects and carry out detailed surveys about their health and habits. The geneticist leading the research, Gonçalo Abecasis, stated that so far about 4,200 people have signed up. Abecasis also stated that this project will tell people something about their ancestry but will not try to make health predictions. In this study, participants will be sent a spit kit and will later gain access to DNA information by downloading a file to their desktops.

So far, most people still have no real use for genetic data and more common systems for interpreting it are lacking as well. This is one issue that Apple faces as consumers may or may not be interested in their DNA.

It is said that these DNA-app studies could be cancelled, but it was also stated that Apple wants the app ready in June for the company’s worldwide developers’ conference to be held in San Francisco.

Story originally written by Antonio Regalado on :

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