Real-time DNA Sequencing On Your SmartWatch? The Tech Is Not Far Away

Will the Apple Watch Series 10 or 12 offer handy real-time DNA sequencing? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, thanks to a series of scientific breakthroughs. And it could revolutionize personalized medicine, especially for super-malignant cancers.

Sequencing a genome used to be science fiction.

That changed when the Human Genome project kicked off in October of 1990. But it wasn’t until 13 long years had passed that the project actually completed in April of 2003. Today, sequencing a genome takes between two to four days: a massive improvement, but still not just something you check like the time on your smartwatch.

Now scientists at IMEC, an international innovation hub, have open-sourced software to bring that down to between 10 minutes and a few hours.

“The latest version … can now do a 50X coverage whole genome — that’s one that’s quite often used — we can now do that in under 10 minutes for roughly speaking $1,” Dr. Roel Wuyts told me in a recent TechFirst podcast.

That’s up to 16 times faster than current best-of-breed solutions.

Part of the challenge is that sequencing a genome is a two-part process. There’s the actual physical data-gathering aspect, and there’s the analysis of the resulting data. While today’s DNA-testing machines that a major hospital might have can run through perhaps 9,000 genomes in a year, analyzing the data so doctors and scientists can work with it would take 18 months.

Wuyts and his team at KU Leuven, a research university in Belgium that works with IMEC, have built elPrep5, a software platform for DNA analysis. The goal: getting the software to catch up to the hardware.

Listen to the interview behind this story on TechFirst:

“Finally, we can run the entire DNA analysis pipeline with a single software platform solution, and faster than ever,” another IMEC researcher, Dr. Charlotte Herzeel, says. “For the medical sector, this allows massive efficiency gains because the time between sampling and diagnosis dramatically decreases and doctors can run analyses overnight.”

elPrep5 is that software platform, and IMEC is…