Wear­ables: Revo­lu­tion­iz­ing med­i­cal re­search

HWM (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

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

WANT.”

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