Apple is getting into the genetics business. A new report from Technology Review says that the company is collaborating with researchers for two different ResearchKit apps that will collect and study genetic data. In keeping with previous ResearchKit studies, Apple won't collect any of the samples or have access to the results, but Apple's ResearchKit software will guide the process and coordinate subjects across studies. The move suggests a major new direction for the company's medical research software, and an exciting new avenue for genetic research. According to Technology Review, Apple is planning to announce the studies at WWDC in June.
The DNA test seems to be a simple spit test covering the most note-worthy portions of the subject's genome, akin to the tests offered by consumer services like 23andMe. Unlike consumer services, all the ResearchKit tests will be performed by doctors and subject to approval from internal ethics review boards. It's also likely that ResearchKit will eventually enable sharing between studies, allowing a user who has been tested once to enter a new study without a second round of spit.
Many researchers have expressed concerns with ResearchKit as a sample-gathering tool because of the inherent bias in relying on subjects with iPhones. Sharing data could make that selection bias even stronger as researchers come to rely on the easily accessible pool of subjects that are available through Apple's tools. Still, the easy access will be a powerful lure for many researchers looking for an alternative to conventional methods of finding subjects. In March, researchers at Genes For Good attempted a similar trick over Facebook, building an app that used the social network to recruit and sign up test subjects.