Apple Will Reportedly Integrate Genetic Data Into ResearchKit

7-22-2013 11-02-58 PM

After a successful launch of its new medical research API, ResearchKit, Apple is reportedly already in the works of expanding the API to provide users with the ability to import and selectively share their own genetic data. MIT Technology Review cites insiders with knowledge of the program, and says that the new features will initially support two active research projects being conducted over ResearchKit by UCSF and Mount Sinai. The new features would look at a subset of about 100 medically significant genetic markers, rather than an entire sequenced human genome.

When Apple launched ResearchKit in March, its stated goal was to support medical research by streamlining the process of recruiting and capturing data from participants. The framework was co-developed by Apple and a group of academic institutions including Stanford University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and the University of Oxford. In its initial release, ResearchKit gave researchers the ability to code an app that would have access to any health metrics being tracked on the phone, like activity, caloric intake, or blood glucose levels.

Since its launch, the platform has been heralded as a powerful new tool for researchers, and is credited with helping Stanford recruit over 10,000 qualified participants for a cardiovascular study it is planning. Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health, frames the significance of this achievement by explaining, “To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country. That’s the power of the phone."

In a break from its traditional development approach, Apple launched ResearchKit as an open-source API so that its capabilities could grow over time and address the future needs of developers. Just two months after its launch, it appears that work is already in progress. This week, news broke that the company is working with health systems to incorporate gene panel results. To join a study requiring genetic data, participants would simply agree to undergo targeted DNA sequencing that researchers estimate could cost less than a few hundred dollars.

The benefit of centralizing these more sophisticated health data points in ResearchKit is that they could potentially be used over and over, in conjunction with the other information being collected by the phone, to support future research initiatives.

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