Smartphone app enables storage, testing of DNA data

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine have developed a smartphone app that allows people to safely store and use their DNA on a mobile device, holding great promise in the rapidly growing area of personalized medicine, according to a university article.

Taking advantage of genome sequencing, the GenoDroid app was tested on the Android platform with publicly available genome data and is able to determine in less than half a second whether one individual is another's father. In addition, due to the use of advanced encryption techniques, only a small fraction of a person's DNA is needed, while the rest remains secure.

"We wanted to show the world that it's not only possible in theory, it's possible today," said Gene Tsudik, UC Irvine professor of computer science, who led the research team.

By storing their genome on a smartphone, individuals could learn quickly and inexpensively whether they're genetically predisposed to major health conditions, certain mental illnesses or additional risks, Tsudik states. As he points out, pharmaceutical companies currently produce highly customized drugs for certain cancers and other ailments using specific DNA markers, but some consumers fear losing insurance coverage if their results are shared and these companies don't want to reveal proprietary information about customized treatments. 

However, according to Tsudik, the GenoDroid app addresses both of these concerns with an electronic "double-blind" solution to the problem: each side uses encrypted versions of the other's data and learns only the outcome--for instance, match or no match--and nothing more.

Currently, one of the major obstacles to widespread DNA digitization is the cost. Digitized genome services can cost consumers hundreds of dollars. Nevertheless, prices are quickly falling and once people have their information in electronic form they'll be able to load it onto their smartphones and encrypt it with GenoDroid, said Tsudik.

As a result, in the interim, the UC Irvine team said they will not release the next version of the app until DNA digitalization becomes commonplace. 

In related news, the Scripps Translational Science Institute, a National Institutes of Health-supported consortium led by Scripps Health which supports the development of breakthrough digital technologies designed to revolutionize the practice of medicine, is testing a point-of-care chip genotyping platform that can determine within 20 minutes a patient's DNA compatibility with certain drugs such as Plavix, Metformin and Interferon. The project could lead to a radical change in the way prescriptions are filled at pharmacies and help to eliminate the costly use of ineffective drugs.

To learn more:
- read the UC Irvine article