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Helix Launches 'App Store'

Helix is launching an 'app store' where consumers can buy interpretations of their gene sequence, MIT's Technology Review reports. Helix spun out of Illumina in 2015.

For $80, Helix will sequence customers' exomes and store that data, and then customers can buy apps from third-party developers that tell them about their genes, it adds. For instance, the company Exploragen says it can gauge whether people are morning people or night owls from their genes, while Insitome's app estimates the portion of people's genomes that derive from Neanderthals, Tech Review notes. Business Insider adds that some 20 apps are to launch today, and they range in price from $20 to hundreds of dollars.

Helix says this app-store approach will keep people engaged with their genetic data longer as they can come back and explore different parts of their genome at their leisure rather than receiving a long report all at once.

"It's our goal that someone will have a lifelong relationship with their DNA data," CEO Robin Thurston tells Tech Review.

Wired notes that Helix is scrutinizing the apps being offered and that some of the app developers like Sema4's Eric Schadt whose test gauges whether a woman might pass on a gene mutation to her child are requiring users provide additional information to secure a doctor's OK for the test.

Still, Scripps Research Institute's Eric Topol notes that people cannot download their raw data from Helix and that they may not receive meaningful results. "Sequencing is great for sick people, but for healthy people there really isn't any proof that it's informative," he tells Wired. "Someday the science might be good enough, but at this moment it seems like it's not going to yield much for people."