Apple Collaborates with Scientists to Collect DNA

May 08, 2015
By: Tara Seals

Apple (News - Alert) is planning two health apps that will help researchers collect and study genetic data.

The DNA testing will be facilitated via Apple’s ResearchKit platform, which debuted earlier this year for the medical and scientific research community to use in tapping Apple owners for participation in studies. Apple won’t collect the DNA itself, but will rather help researchers find test subjects.

According to the MIT Technology Review, the information will be held in a scientific cloud—and some of it would be pushed back directly to iPhone (News - Alert) and iPad users. From there, test subjects can choose to share their DNA information with various entities, from healthcare providers to other scientists to consumer-facing service providers (and, presumably, advertisers).

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“Apple launched ResearchKit and got a fantastic response. The obvious next thing is to collect DNA,” Gholson Lyon, a geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, told the Technology Review.

To date, ResearchKit apps include mPower, which tracks symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. mPower has been a success story, with thousands of participants signing up in its first few days.

“Hundreds of millions of people around the world have an iPhone in their pocket,” Apple said of ResearchKits. “Each one is equipped with powerful processors and advanced sensors that can track movement, take measurements, and record information — functions that are perfect for medical studies. The sheer number of them being used across the globe opens up new possibilities for researchers. With ResearchKit, researchers can easily create apps that take advantage of iPhone features to gather new types of data on a scale never available before.”

There is a definite push on the part of universities, the government and tech companies to create a massive database of genetic information that can be used to develop cures for diseases or to uncover what’s behind certain disorders.

The apps will be ready for Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference (WWDC), to be held in June in San Francisco, sources said.