DNA strands on a blue background
DNA strands on a blue background

“Co-op” Lets Users Barter DNA and Health Information for Shares

LunaDNA receives Securities and Exchange Commission approval to treat the data as currency.

Shawna Williams
Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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LunaDNA, a startup that enables individuals to opt in to a database of genetic and health information in exchange for shares in the company—and, perhaps, eventual dividends—has received approval from the US Securities and Exchange Commission and is now open for business, the company announced on Wednesday (December 5). LunaDNA plans to begin enabling researchers to conduct studies on the resulting aggregated, anonymized data late next year in exchange for payments, which would trickle back to those who contributed in the form of dividends.

The company is one of a handful of startups that aim to compensate individuals for sharing their information for research, and to give them some control over how that information is used. But these companies typically look to employ blockchain-based platforms to enable users to choose which research projects to participate in, and receive payments in return. 

In contrast to this model,...

See “Startups Plan the Health Data Gold Rush

“Patients and research participants need to be partners in research,” writes Kathy Hudson, executive director of the nonprofit People-Centered Research Foundation, in an email to The Scientist. “But, we don’t have great evidence-based models of how to engage patient partners—yet. There is a lot of experimentation right now with different methods for active and equitable participation.”

See “Company Offers Free Whole-Genome Sequencing for Data Sharers

Steven Andrés, a management information systems lecturer at San Diego State University, told the San Diego Union-Tribune in October that companies such as LunaDNA demonstrate the trade-offs users face when “monetizing our privacy.”

“When we post something on social media, a small part of our privacy is lost in exchange for what we perceive as a service,” he says. “It might be me sharing photos of my dog, and I’m glad there is a website where I can do that freely. But dog photos are different from my DNA. I can’t change my DNA if this data is leaked later on.”

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