Shalom Life | April 28, 2014

DNA Testing on Your Smartphone

Is GeneG, the new app that allows DIY genetic analysis, just another exercise in self-quantification, or a giant leap into the future of medicine?

By: Emily Brewes

Published: October 17th, 2013 in Health » Israel

A trio of researchers from Tel Aviv University have developed an app/website combo that will soon make genetic analysis as routine as checking blood pressure, and as easy as sending a text message. GeneG allows users to upload their genomic sequence and conduct their own analyses for everything from diseases to their hair and eye colour.

Currently, genetic testing is a trying process, requiring separate submissions of material, only a portion of which is mapped and screened for one disorder or trait at a time. While GeneG still requires a genomic sequencing file to work, it means that users possess a complete copy of their genetic makeup that can be submitted to any number of analyses with the click of a button.

Sequencing services can cost upwards of $3500 for a 24 hour turnaround, but pundits speculate that volume demand could see that cost drop significantly, and soon. Considering that the sequencing of the human genome took 8 years and $3 billion to complete only a decade ago, the ubiquity of affordable genetic screening seems a certainty.

There are currently hundreds of digital genetic tests, developed by organizations like the National Institutes of Health, Stanford University, and the European Bioinformatics Institute, to which users will be able to submit their information, but the advantages of the application go beyond simple screening. The developers think their software will also be instrumental in advancing the field of pharmacogenomics - tailoring medicines to individual needs based on a patient's genetic information.

"If we give this power to the general public, it will put pressure on the medical field to catch up with this information," said Noam Shomron, who created GeneG along with TAU graduate students Ofer Isakov and Gershon Celniker. But, Shomron also feels an informed approach is wisest.

"[GeneG] should be used with great caution and with sensible interpretation. Some people might not be ready to see all this information about themselves."

The GeneG application and website are only the newest in the nascent field that seeks to make the most of the technology and computing power that pervades our lives. Gene-Z is an iPod-based tablet that performs genetic analysis on microRNAs, to screen for cancer markers in low-income and resource-limited countries where pathology departments may be far away, or entirely non-existent.

Cancer Research UK, in partnership with Scottish games developer Guerilla Tea, is developing GeneGame, an application that will crowdsource cancer research. Users will participate in gamified analysis of "terabytes, upon petabytes of genetic data," potentially pointing researchers to more promising treatments for cancer. They're buoyed by their current success with Cell Slider, a web game that invited the public to identify and classify breast cancer cells, and completed 18 months of analysis in only three.

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