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23andMe Creates Research Software for iPhone Apps


(JEShoots, Pixabay)

21 March 2016. The personal genetics company 23andMe wrote a software module for Apple’s ResearchKit platform that makes it possible to add genetics data to iPhone apps used in medical research. The module, says 23andMe, in Mountain View, California, also supports genetics data from other sources, with three research apps now using the software to collect or store data.

Apple’s ResearchKit is an open-source framework for collecting medical data with surveys or sensors connected to iPhones. The platform also contains templates to describe the conduct of studies and capture signatures for informed consent. In addition, ResearchKit integrates with HealthKit, Apple’s mobile platform for monitoring an individual’s health and fitness.

The 23andMe software, says the company, allows health research apps to add and integrate data from 23andMe’s individual genetic profiles, once consent is given by the customer. So far, two apps collecting data on asthma and heart health use the module for genetic data from 23andMe. Apple says a third app, for a study on postpartum depression, also collects genetic data, but not through 23andMe.

The Asthma Health app, designed by researchers at Mount Sinai medical center in New York, enables participants to use their iPhones to enter data on their asthma symptoms and triggers, such as heavy air pollution. The iPhone app also gives reminders to take medications and provides feedback on progress.

LifeMap Solutions, a health care IT developer in San Jose, California, is writing algorithms for analyzing the collected data to provide insights for researchers on monitoring asthma conditions with mobile technology, as well as personalized guidance for people with asthma. Some 8,800 people in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland take part in the study with the Asthma Health app.

The MyHeart Counts app, developed by Stanford University’s medical school, collects data on physical activity and risk factors related to heart health, to study the prevention and treatment of heart disease. Participants with the app are asked to track a week’s worth of physical activity every 3 months, complete a 6-minute walking fitness test, and answer questions related to cardiac risk factors. Some 50,000 individuals are using the app in the U.S., U.K., and Hong Kong.

The MyHeart Counts iPhone app returns to the user a summary of the individual’s heart health, as well as suggesting areas for improvement. LifeMap Solutions is also helping the app’s developers at Stanford integrate genetics data from 23andMe. Non-identified data from individuals (with permission) are collected by Sage Bionetworks, a not-for-profit research institute, for further analysis.

Apple says an app designed with ResearchKit to collect data on postpartum depression, known as PPD Act, is using genetics data as well. The PPD Act study — short for Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment — aims to better understand the causes of postpartum depression, particularly the interaction of genetics and environment that lead to some women experiencing the disorder and not others.

An iPhone app enables users to collect data with a survey on childbirth, mood, and anxiety symptoms. A subset of participants will also be asked to provide a saliva sample, from which their DNA will be analyzed. The survey and DNA data will then tested further for associations between genetic characteristics and postpartum symptoms. The study is conducted by University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, with National Institute of Mental Health, and research labs in Wales and Australia.

Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe’s CEO says in a company statement that its software module should encourage more use of genetics data in studies with mobile devices for data collection. “This will enable research on a much broader scale,” adds Wojcicki. “Incorporating genetics into a platform with the reach of ResearchKit will accelerate insights into illness and disease even further.”

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