Apple is working on a plan that could give the company and its research partners access to consumer DNA, a new report suggests. The data would be collected by research partners and stored in an online cloud to be used in medical studies, such as one run by the University of California that examines the DNA of expectant mothers to help pinpoint the causes of premature birth.
Now Apple is closely involved in shaping initial studies that will collect DNA. One, planned by the University of California, San Francisco, would study causes of premature birth by combining gene tests with other data collected on the phones of expectant mothers. A different study would be led by Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Other studies are already being planned, and the report suggests that Apple could be prepared to roll out the DNA component of ResearchKit as early as this year’s WWDC in June. The report goes on to suggest that perhaps one day users will be able to make their genetic information available to mobile apps as easily as they do other information, such as their photos and location.
We previously reported on Apple executives commenting on major ambitions for the future of HealthKit and ResearchKit-connected software.
The eventual hope, it seems, is to put users’ genetic data right on their phones so that they can take advantage of a wide array of heretofore unavailable applications. Some possibilities include using an app to track your ancestry based on your DNA.
To join one of the studies, a person would agree to have a gene test carried out—for instance, by returning a “spit kit” to a laboratory approved by Apple. The first such labs are said to be the advanced gene-sequencing centers operated by UCSF and Mount Sinai.
Until there’s a compelling reason for users to fork over their DNA, however, privacy concerns may trump users’ willingness to help researchers.
Apple debuted ResearchKit with iOS 8.2 earlier this year, and the platform quickly proved to be a massive success with millions of users downloading the first batch of compatible applications.