IBM Watson ups the ante on digital wellness with gene-based health app

At the 2016 CES, IBM Watson and Pathway Genomics unveiled a new health app that takes the user's genes into account.

Image: iStockphoto/Tomasz Wyszołmirski

Our genes affect almost everything about us—our hair color, eye color, height—but they also affect our health. Genes not only predispose us to certain diseases, but they also affect how our bodies gain or lose weight, as well as how they respond to certain medicines.

This genetic imprint on our health can make it difficult to prescribe a one-size-fits-all diet and exercises plan for all people. Digital health trackers are helping, but sometimes they struggle to tell the whole story.

To better bring genetics into conversations about personal health, Pathway Genomics and IBM Watson recently announced the Pathway Genomics OME app the CES 2016 Digital Health Summit in Las Vegas.

The app combines Watson's cognitive computing capabilities with precision medicine and genetics information to give users a more personal, in-depth look at their health.

The OME app is in an early alpha release, making use of data from the company's "Fit" test, which is a report that takes a look at the user's individual genetic traits, current health habits, data from health wearables and GPS, as well as information from the user's Apple HealthKit account.

As the app helps build out a diet plan for users, it takes a look at the genetic variants that determine how the user burns fat, or how quickly he or she will feel full after eating. The app also relies on this information when making restaurant recommendations.

Still, this begs the question of just how Pathway Genomics and IBM will get your DNA in the first place. According to official press release, Pathway Genomics will mail users a kit that collects DNA from their saliva, conducting their tests on the sample with clinicians and scientists upon receiving the sample. The tests conducted on the samples look at 75 genes that affect the body's response to exercise, diet, fats, and sugars.

In the future, Pathway Genetics OME app users will be able to opt-in to include extra information such as electronic medical records (EMR), insurance information, and other relevant data.

IBM invested in Pathway Genetics in late 2014, a few months before launching its Watson Health division in early 2015. Big Blue has made numerous moves in the healthcare space around Watson over the past few years, and even made other announcements at this year's CES, including a partnership with Under Armour and progress on an app to predict low blood sugar in diabetic users.

Despite its rapid pace of acquisitions and innovations in digital health, IBM is not alone in the space. Philips has been making some moves of its own as well, announcing key partnerships with and AWS. However, right now it looks like Philips is targeting more of the IoT and connected device opportunities, but the two companies will likely cross paths down the line.

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Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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