While Apple ($AAPL), Google ($GOOG) and Samsung are all trying to persuade people to use their mobile technology to create personal health hubs, Illumina ($ILMN) plans to take the concept further still. The genomics giant is working to turn smartphones into "molecular stethoscopes" that could change how patients interact with the healthcare and research ecosystems.
Illumina CTO Mostafa Ronaghi discussed the project at a conference attended by EE Times. The basic idea is to create a chip that adds genomics capabilities to smartphones. Work on aspects of the technology needed to realize this ambition is already underway, with Illumina tasking researchers with finding biocompatible interfaces between "wet and dry science," namely the methods for processing samples that contain genetic information and silicon technology.
Digital microfluidics on silicon have shown potential, and various methods of on-chip genomic detection--such as electrical and optical--are being considered. While fundamental questions are as yet unanswered, Ronaghi is confident the technology is coming. "We will not need a primary doctor in the future, you will get tested [at home or in a clinic] and go directly to a specialist. I believe it will happen in 5 to 7 years," Ronaghi said.
The ability to diagnose and monitor patients remotely has implications for clinical trials, with such technology potentially accelerating the shift to increasingly off-site studies envisaged by Pfizer's ($PFE) REMOTE project. Consumers are already tracking basic health metrics, and Apple's HealthKit and Google Fit should boost uptake. As the number of metrics that consumer technologies can track increases, the technology will become more and more attractive to researchers.