Apple tests the waters for DNA analysis

By John DeGaspari

The iPhone may become the latest mHealth tool to stir the public's interest in DNA testing, and signal Apple's entry into the competitive landscape for gathering genetic information.

Apple is collaborating with U.S. researchers to launch apps that will give some iPhone owners a chance to get their DNA tested--many for the first time, according to MIT Technology Review.

Apple, which reportedly has been closely involved in shaping the studies, will not collect or analyze the DNA, instead relying on two academic partners. Two initial studies are planned: one at the University of California, San Francisco, which will study the causes of premature birth; and a second at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Scientists will store and maintain the data on a computing cloud, and certain data could also appear on consumers' iPhones, according to the report.

The DNA apps will be based on ResearchKit, the open-source platform launched by Apple in April for medical researchers. According to Technology Review, Apple wants the new DNA apps to be ready in time for this year's conference in June.

The first five free apps derived from ResearchKit are tied to specific medical ailments including diabetes, asthma, Parkinson's disease and heart monitoring. Those apps were well received, attracting 60,000 iPhone users within the first few weeks of their availability on the App Store, according to VentureBeat.

That could bode well for the DNA apps, making Apple a significant player in the field of collecting and analyzing DNA data. Yet VentureBeat also cautioned that Apple should be careful not to present DNA-derived data that can be viewed as diagnostic, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to bar 23andMe, the personal genetics company, to stop offering new consumers access to health-related genetic tests in 2013. (The FDA appeared to reverse course in February, when it permitted marketing of first direct-to-consumer genetic carrier test for Bloom syndrome.)

To learn more:
- read the MIT Technology Review article
- check out the VentureBeat piece