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Looking at your genes through your watch

Number of deals in the healthcare sectors signed by Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Comcast, Facebook, Google, Intel, Tencent, Microsoft. Notice the higher number in Data analytics and genomics. Image credti: CB Insights

As shown in the graphics the ten big Tech companies are focussing their investment in the area of healthcare primarily on data analytics and genomics. Actually, these two areas are progressing hand in hand, with genomics leveraging on analytics to discover meaning.

One has to read in this perspective the announcement of Invitae of a new app, Invitae Discover, in partnership with Apple to analyse data gathered by Apple watch(es) comparing them to the genetic profile of the wearer to identify possibile correlation between cardio-vascular diseases and the genome (certain genes).

Invitae is a medical genetic company that is aggregating sequenced genomes data (getting close to a database of a million sequenced genomes) and it is working to understand the clinical implication of genes. This is done through data analytics on the genome data base and with this announcement Invitae points to include in their data set the data generated by the Apple watch. People having their sequenced genome in the Invitae data base can participate in the study by opting in to have the data gathered by their Apple watch (those who are wearing one, of course) becoming part of the study.Invitae

What is interesting is the possibility offered by data correlation to identify possible impact on health, in this case on the insurgence of cardiovascular pathologies as well as on their treatment, and the fact that this correlation can be made by data harvested by a consumer grade device (the Apple watch).

I see this as a first concrete example of what is called “social genomics“. A wearable, like a watch, is providing data on the behaviour of a person, beyond data on hearth beating and electrical activity. These data, once correlated with data from thousands of other people, can provide insights on the relation between genes and phenotype and its expression.

Invitae first study will be focusing on Atrial Fibrillation cause and personal data privacy will be protected under the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). It is a first step and I think it will mark the beginning of the shift towards the integration of genomics in every day healthcare.


About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.