BlackBerry Passport access patient genome data

Early next year, clinicians will be able to use BlackBerry phones to touch and swipe their way around patients’ genome data in real time.

NantHealth, which provides a cloud-based service to manage patient health data, is preparing an app that will let clinicians visualise a patient’s unique genome pairs directly on the screen. The NantOmics Cancer Genome Browser will only be available on the BlackBerry Passport, the firm’s recently-shipped, large-format phone.

NantHealth founder Patrick Soon-Shiong said that the app could help clinicians to decide which specific drugs to give cancer patients, based on real-time analysis.

Human cells contain DNA, which is a kind of blueprint that tells cells how they should grow. The DNA is made up of millions of combinations of chemical bases, known as ‘base pairs’. These base pairs combine to form genes, which in turn make up the human genome.

If there is a mutation at the DNA level, then it can force a cell to become cancerous as it grows. Cell growth is encouraged by proteins, and these are a particularly important part, explained Soon-Shiong.

“Getting to the protein is very important because that’s what the drugs interact with. So the bottom line is for the clinician to have a piece of information that will help them to decide which drug to give, based on that abnormal protein signature,” he said.

“The ability to take this tissue and microscopically or molecularly decide what drug to give creates actionable information.”

The NantOmics browser draws information from a back-end decision support tool operated by NantHealth, called Eviti. The tool analyses patient biopsies and provides information to clinicians, but this is the first time that a clinician has been able to browse a genome in real time, Soon-Shiong said. He likened the browsing app to a form of DNA X-Ray, so that clinicians could see what was happening inside a patient’s genome.

The browser makes use of BlackBerry Balance, a feature of BB10 that creates separate areas for work and personal data. NantOmics runs in the phone’s work perimeter and accesses the back-end data via BES 12, the latest version of BlackBerry’s secure enterprise server system, launched in November.

“Using end-end encryption, containerization, and BlackBerry’s secure global infrastructure, BES12 locks down mission-critical data both on-devices and in-transit, across OS platforms and device ownership models,” said a BlackBerry spokesperson when asked about the partnership with NantHealth.  The application can also run in a BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 environment, they added.

The application has been piloted on an ad hoc basis, and will be available next year, BlackBerry said. NantHealth is currently pursuing certification for clinicians to use the application with patient data in Canada.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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