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Why Apple is after your DNA

Why Apple is after your DNA
photo courtesy of shutterstock

Apple can already collect all sorts of information about your health using the Health app and gadgets like Apple Watch. They can track everything from blood pressure to how much manganese you eat. And, if the rumors are true, Apple could be coming after your DNA next.

“Apple launched ResearchKit and got a fantastic response. The obvious next thing is to collect DNA,” says Gholson Lyon, a geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who isn’t involved with the studies.

Hospitals and researchers can use Apple's ResearchKit platform to conduct scientific studies using the sensors iPads and iPhones to collect data and conduct surveys. There have already been five apps created for ResearchKit that have attracted thousands of users. One was used to conduct a study on Parkinson's Disease.

Now, it looks like Apple would like to partner with academic groups to use ResearchKit to collect DNA.

In two possible studies involving Apple, the company's partners would collect DNA samples from participants. Users would then be able to see certain data about themselves right on their own iPhone. Apple is currently rumored to be working on DNA studies with University of California, San Francisco and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Like the ResearchKit apps released so far, the studies would be approved by Apple and by an institutional review board, a type of oversight body that advises researchers on studies involving volunteers.

So, why does Apple want in on your DNA? There are a few reasons. First off, ResearchKit could give patients and study participants a more active role in research by letting them access information about themselves right on their phones. This would make it easier for them to handle their own DNA information and even share it with other studies. It would also give Apple a foothold in a market that has the potential to grow in the future.

By playing this role in gene studies, Apple would join a short list of companies trying to excite people about what they might do with their own genetic information. Among them are the genealogy company Ancestry.com, the Open Humans Project, and 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer testing company that has collected DNA profiles of more than 900,000 people who bought its $99 spit kits.

Apple still has a lot of roadblocks in its way if it wants to gather DNA information on a large scale. There are many government regulations it has to abide by when it comes to gathering user health data. Plus, the company has to find out if users are even interested in accessing their DNA information on their gadgets.

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