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Mac maker’s latest innovation means health researchers will be able to gather more accurate data easier and faster
“It has the potential to accelerate everything from breast cancer research to drug development”
The big surprise at the Apple Watch reveal was ResearchKit, an open-source software framework that turns your iPhone into a diagnostic tool for medical and health research. Jeff Williams, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Operations, said: “ResearchKit gives the scientific community access to a diverse, global population and more ways to collect data than ever before”.
The software makes it easier to recruit research subjects, improving the quality of data by enabling 24/7 data collection and sharing. Apple worked with several reputable medical research teams in the development of ResearchKit, which ships this month. There are five initial apps: mPower from the University of Rochester, Xuanwu Hospital at Capital Medical University and Sage Bionetworks looks into Parkinsons Disease; Diabetes app GlucoSuccess comes from Massachusetts General Hospital; Heart Disease research is via MyHeart Counts from Stanford Medicine and the University of Oxford; Asthma Health from Mount Sinai Hospital and Weill
Cornell Medical College conducts research into the breathing condition; and breast cancer app Share The Journey comes from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, UCLA School of Public Health, Penn Medicine and Sage Bionetworks.
ResearchKit apps can access data gathered by iOS 8’s Health app that is measured by thirdparty devices and apps – information such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use. ResearchKit can also request access to an iPhone’s accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors to gather information about a person’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory. And because ResearchKit is open source, Android apps could implement Apple’s framework.
“Access to more diverse patient-reported data will help us learn more about long-term aftereffects of cancer treatments and provide us with a better understanding of the breast cancer patient experience”, says Patricia Ganz, Director of Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Initial response seems promising. Stanford Researchers attracted 11,000 iPhone users willing to participate in heart research using their ResearchKit app. “In most medical studies, 10,000 is a large number, but if we can really hit our mark and have a million people download it, you can do much larger population studies than anything that’s been done in the past”, wrote Alan Yeung, MD of Stanford Cardiovascular Health. “It has the potential to accelerate everything from breast cancer research to drug development”, says Dr Leslie Saxon, Executive Director of the USC Center for Body Computing.
Doctor and medical blogger Mike Sevilla thinks ResearchKit shows the future of medical care: “Imagine the synergy that will be created with the right app technology, engaged patients and interactive medical teams”, he says. “Just mind blowing… the potential here is limitless.”
While UK iPhone users aren’t yet eligible to participate in research through the apps, US iPhone users who wish to take part can download the relevant app and agree to their data being collected. Only approved researchers are able to access the data. “You decide whether to participate”, says Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations. “You decide how the data is shared. Apple will not see your data”.
Sensors on the back of the Apple Watch can monitor your heart rate during a workout.
ResearchKit is an open-source framework, so studies conducted with it can include people who don’t use Apple devices.