Apple quietly launched a new software product called ResearchKit back in March. The platform helps hospitals and scientists run medical studies on iPhones by collecting data from sensors or through long medical surveys. According to the MIT Technology Review (a very reputable publication) these sensors could in fact one day collect DNA information.
The ease of use of Apple devices and the iOS platform coupled with Apple’s incredible reach, offer researchers a wide range of people for test samples. That was evident with mPower one of the first ResearchKit apps. mPower is an app that tracks the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease was able to attract thousands of participants using the ResearchKit platform. Traditional research projects yield far fewer test subjects, according to Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania Health System: “We have sent out over 60,000 letters. Those 60,000 letters have netted 305 women.” for a research study.
In other medical research the power of the ResearchKit platform has yielded over 7500 asthma sufferers, and 6000 downloads of a breast cancer research app. Before this platform scientists, doctors and researchers could never reach this amount of test subjects.
There’s no reason to sound an alarm because Apple doesn’t actually hold any of this information, like app developers, the research institutions, be it a hospital, or scientific firm, hold onto the data.
Many doctors know that DNA is the next logical thing for the platform.
“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.
Antonio Regalado of the MIT Technology Review suggests that in just a few years people could easily swipe their DNA information or other sensor collected information to friends, family or physicians. He goes onto question whether or not the general population even wants their DNA data or what they would do with it.
“In 10 years it could be incredibly significant,” says Lyon, the Cold Spring Harbor geneticist. “But the question is, do they have a killer app to interact with their [DNA] quickly and easily.”
If there was a killer app for DNA collection would you use it with your iPhone?