Buzz: Apple plans to add 23andMe-style spit kits to ResearchKit studies

Apple ($AAPL) has designs on the DNA sequencing sector. The tech giant is reportedly working with researchers to make 23andMe-style DNA sequencing spit kits part of ResearchKit, the platform that turned every iPhone user into a potential study participant. 

MIT Technology Review broke news of the plans in a feature based around anonymous sources with knowledge of the initiative. Apple is staying typically tight-lipped, but a picture of its vision has emerged nonetheless. The first phase reportedly involves a collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to assess the causes of premature births and another study run by Mount Sinai Hospital. UCSF and Mount Sinai would arrange the collection and testing of DNA--using gene panels, not full sequencing--and some of the results would then appear on participants' iPhones.

In the longer term, Apple reportedly wants to "enable the individual to show and share" their DNA with investigators in scientific studies and other people. Once a person had their DNA test results, they could then easily share the data with other studies. The project could still hit an impassable blockade and never come to fruition, but equally there is a chance Apple could be ready to unveil the apps at its developers' conference in June. Such an announcement would take the already feverish hype around ResearchKit up a notch.

The scale of Apple's user base and the speed with which the first wave of ResearchKit studies enrolled participants suggests the DNA initiative could quickly amass a lot of data, assuming people see value in getting tested. DNA testing would intensify concerns about data privacy and informed consent, but Apple has navigated these tricky topics well so far. "Apple launched ResearchKit and got a fantastic response. The obvious next thing is to collect DNA," Gholson Lyon, a geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, said. Lyon has no involvement with the studies.

- read MIT Technology Review's article