Wearables: Revolutionizing medical research
MEDICAL RESEARCH IS A PARAMOUNT COMPONENT
of medical studies and is crucial to our understanding to how people react to symptoms, how diseases work, and how effective a particular drug is in the real world. One of the biggest challenges facing medical researchers is the lack of subjects. Kathryn Schmidtz, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, said that in sending out 60,000 letters in a bid to get new subjects for a study, they received only 305 responses. The truth is that methods for conducting medical research haven’t really changed in decades. Researchers would try to recruit subjects by putting up flyers, or attract them by offering small rewards for participation. In some cases, university might even make it compulsory for undergraduates to participate. Needless to say, these methods do not provide an accurate a cross-section of the population, thereby limiting our understanding of diseases. Apple wants to change this. There are already hundreds of millions of iPhones out there and millions of users wearing Apple Watches and other activity trackers. So how can they harness this? The answer is ResearchKit, an opensource software framework that will allow researchers and developers to create apps for medical research. In a nutshell, ResearchKit will allow researchers and doctors to gather more data by using apps and taking advantage of the millions of iPhones and Apple Watches that are already out there. For example, one common way to assess Parkinson’s disease is the Parkinson’s Gait Test, where a doctor rates a patient on his walk on a scale of 0 to 4. It’s highly subjective and also troublesome to conduct as it requires patients or subjects to come in and walk in front of a doctor. But by using the accelerometer in the iPhone and Apple Watch, ResearchKit lets researchers and developers create apps that can accurately measure the gait of a patient or subject. It also lets subject do the test wherever they are and whenever they want. Beyond Parkinson’s disease, ResearchKit will also allow for other apps to be created that can be used to measure and test for other conditions and diseases, allowing research subjects and patients to self-diagnose and take part in research without traveling to a clinic and without the presence and guidance of doctor. It makes things much more convenient and simpler. Since ResearchKit pulls data out of the Health app, it’s not limited to just the Apple Watch, it will work with any wearable that uses an app that syncs with Apple Health - and that’s a list that includes popular wearables like Jawbone’s Up activity trackers, Withings Activité smartwatches and Polar’s running watches and activity trackers. This allows researchers to gather a larger, more diverse and meaningful amount of data. Beyond Apple and ResearchKit, Google also wants to use wearables to advance medical research and studies. In June earlier this year, Google’s Google X research division announced a wristband that was designed specifically for medical research. It will be more accurate than consumergrade activity trackers and it can measure heart rate, heart rhythm, skin temperature and even ambient light exposure and noise levels by the minute. Andy Conrad, head of the life sciences team at Google, said that the intended use of this wristband is for doctors to prescribe them to patients or for use in clinical trials. Conrad also hopes that in future, devices like Google’s wristband will be given to everyone, so that doctors can be alerted to problems and people can catch signs of diseases early. “I envision a day, in 20 or 30 years, where physicians give it to all patients. Prevention means all the time.” Like Apple with ResearchKit, Google is hoping that its new wristband will let doctors track their patients more accurately and reliably, especially when they are away from hospital, thereby giving them deeper insights into their conditions and their lives, and also alerting them to any major complications before they can occur.
“RESEARCHKIT LETS RESEARCHERS AND DEVELOPERS CREATE APPS THAT CAN ACCURATELY MEASURE THE GAIT OF A PATIENT OR SUBJECT. IT ALSO LETS SUBJECT DO THE TEST WHEREVER THEY ARE AND WHENEVER THEY