Gene and Tonic: The iWatch and Research Kit, 23andMe Goes for the Big Time, No Spaceship

Friday March 13th

It’s Friday already and time for Gene and Tonic, our wrap of the week’s headlines.

On Monday, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, announced that the iWatch is indeed a reality. The iWatch has all the wearable techies and mobile health folks doing somersaults. But it was what happened afterward that was so interesting. Did you hear about this?

Forty seven of Apple’s managers wrote an open letter to the CEO of Google saying that Google shouldn’t be peeing in their pants just yet. They said that Tim Cook had no right to announce the iWatch at this time and that they would be around long after Tim Cook retired. Owners of Apple products everywhere were totally embarrassed that their favorite company could be so divided.

No, I must be thinking of something else. That didn’t happen.

But what did happen is that team Mendelspod went to the Wearables Tech Conference this week in Santa Clara. SONY was there one upping the Google Glass--except Google isn’t making their glasses anymore. IBM was there giving tours of their cloud. One company was offering to change the world completely from what we know it, except that their patent lawyer hadn’t done his homework, so they couldn’t tell us exactly how! Perhaps the best summary of the conference came at the booth of a company who came up with the chemicals that make certain wearables conductive or able to be smart. A guy from the back of the booth came up to talk to me and said, yeah, all these wearables are great, but no one is wearing them.

So iWatch, schmiWatch? The real real hit from apple this week may just be the new Research Kit. Did you see this? It was the other thing Tim Cook announced. It’s an all out open source platform for medical research that has open science folks drooling.

John Wilbanks, who has worked a lot on patient consent, helped develop a Parkinsons App for the Research Kit. He tweeted: “After six hours we have 7406 people enrolled in our Parkinson’s study. Largest one ever before was 1700 people. #ResearchKit”

Bloomberg reported that a Stanford University cardiovascular trial got 11,000 volunteers in a day. Normally it would take a year.

What to learn from this? That an apple a day will keep the doctor away? This could be a big breakthrough for signing more folks up to clinical trials.

Apple was not the only Silicon Valley company shaking things up for biomedical research this week. 23andMe -- you know the genetic testing company that somehow makes it into every newscast we do -- announced they were going to go into drug development now. Rather than sell their information for tens of millions, why not develop a drug yourself for billions?

And finally, a couple tweets from the week. First, after a little dustup with a Harvard mathematician, self proclaimed Indie Scientist, Ethan Perlstein, tweeted a prieceless apology: “I escalated unnecessarily earlier. It was a dick move. I apologize.” Priceless.

And this from Elon Musk, the founder of Space X and Tesla: “The rumor that I’m building a spaceship to get back to my home planet Mars is totally untrue.”

That’s Gene and Tonic for Friday the 13th of March. Thanks for joining us.

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