According to the MIT Technology Review, Apple plans to launch apps that give iPhone users the chance to test their DNA, leaving some spitting happy.
I have become a big fan of the MIT Technology Review so when I read their recent article “Apple Has Plans for Your DNA. The iPhone could become a new tool in genetic studies,” I knew I had to write about it.
First off, I am not an iPhone user (I use a Blackberry) so while I am not personally engaged in the whole iPhone-DNA testing paradigm, I am engaged from a digital health perspective.
I mean, really, a smart phone company asking people to spit into a vial?
What’s the deal with Apple and DNA?
According to MIT, Apple is partnering with U.S. researchers to help create apps that would allow iPhone users the chance to have their DNA tested using Apple’s new ResearchKit. The kit, which was introduced in March, helps hospitals and scientists carry out medical studies using iPhones.
By collecting data from the devices’ sensors or through surveys, says the Review.
Off the shelf DNA testing
Direct-to-consumer DNA testing is just that—genetic testing that consumers can request themselves, ones that are commercial applications most often sold over the Internet. Such tests have traditionally been ordered only in a healthcare setting by physicians or other healthcare practitioners.
Now, with the advent of personalized medicine and technology, consumers have the ability to by-pass those medical filters and order their own DNA tests, which is likely what Apple is counting on.
Many consumers may want to know if they are predisposed to certain genetic diseases, just as Angelina Jolie did. Her quest has spawned the Jolie effect, a movement among individuals to know in advance whether or not they carry disease markers such as the BRCA breast cancer gene so they can take proactive measures such as a prophylactic mastectomy or oophorectomy in the case of Jolie.
Nudging iPhone owners to submit DNA samples to researchers would thrust Apple’s devices into the center of a widening battle for genetic information. Universities, large technology companies like Google (see Google Wants to Store Your Genome), direct-to-consumer labs, and even the U.S. government (see U.S. to Develop DNA Study of One Million People) are all trying to amass mega-databases of gene information to uncover clues about the causes of disease. (see Internet of DNA) – MIT Technology Review
The question is: would most people care to know more about their genome? Is there truly a market for iPhone-based DNA testing? Perhaps, especially for prospective parents, for example, who want to know their risk factors for passing on potentially deadly diseases. Would you buy such a test?
Photo: Drew XXX
Many of the scientists quoted in the MIT Technology Review article said, for now, such testing is really about making DNA more accessible to scientific researchers, as opposed to necessarily offering consumers a sexy new app for their iPhones that will instantly gratify their need to identify their genetic makeup.
In 10 years it could be incredibly significant. But the question is, do they have a killer app to interact with their [DNA] quickly and easily? - Gholson Lyon, a geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Still, it's an interesting concept, and one that Apple may just leverage. Where it goes is perhaps ultimately up to the consumer and of course, scientists.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.