Apple's ResearchKit allows researchers to develop their own apps that iPhone users can download in order to participate in a study.
Courtesy of Apple
By Laura Lorenzetti
March 13, 2015

Apple (AAPL) launched ResearchKit earlier this week, and the medical world has been buzzing ever since.

ResearchKit is an open source software framework that’s specially designed for medical and health research using the iPhone’s technically-advanced features, such as its accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors.

The framework reveal was just the beginning. The real fun is in the apps, five of which were announced in parallel with the ResearchKit debut. The five apps each focus on a different health issue and have the potential to transform research into those areas by allowing researchers access to a diverse pool of participants across the U.S. and the globe. Medical research institutions won’t be restricted to the patients that only live within a certain radius of a lab’s headquarters.

The iPhone’s technology also gives researchers complex data that can be used to understand anything from a patient’s gait to how well he or she retains information. It also allows for a clear and interactive informed consent procedure, meeting scientific standards and allowing users’ more control over how they want to share their information. It adds an extra layer of privacy that didn’t exist before, helping to better protect sensitive medical data.

Curious about participating in one of these studies? It’s as easy as downloading an app. Here are the five disease states and the corresponding apps that are available with the click of an iPhone.


Parkinson's disease

Courtesy of Apple

Developed by Sage Bionetworks and the University of Rochester, the Parkinson mPower app uses the iPhone’s sensors to measure and track patients’ symptoms, including tremor, balance and gait, certain vocal characteristics and memory. The app uses a combination of surveys and tasks to collect data both before and after taking medication and at the end of each day. The goals are to cull insights into the variability of Parkinson’s, find ways to better track the progression of the disease and, ultimately, improve the quality of life for those living with Parkinson’s.


Breast cancer

Courtesy of Apple

The Share the Journey app was developed by the Dan-Farber Cancer Institute, Penn Medicine, Sage Bionetworks and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Share the Journey uses the iPhone’s sensors and user-submitted surveys to track fatigue, mood and cognitive changes, sleep disturbances and reduction in exercise.

“Access to more diverse patient-reported health 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,” said Patricia Ganz, a doctor and professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

The app feeds into a research study that aims to understand why some breast cancer survivors recover quicker than others and why, over time, their symptoms vary. Ultimately, the goal is to find ways to improve these symptoms.


Diabetes

Courtesy of Apple

GlucoSuccess, an app developed by Massachusetts General Hospital, aims to understand how various lifestyle factors, such as diet, physical activity and medications, affect blood glucose levels. The idea is that as patients track these factors, they can get a better idea of how their food choices and activity relate to their ideal glucose level and, eventually, implement lifestyle changes that help to manage their diabetes.


Asthma

The Asthma Health app launched alongside ResearchKit.
Courtesy of Apple

Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine and LifeMap Solutions created the Asthma Health app to help facilitate patient education and self-monitoring.

“Using iPhone’s advanced sensors, we’re able to better model an asthma patient’s condition to enable us to deliver a more personalized, more precise treatment,” said Eric Schadt, a doctor and professor of genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine.

The study tracks symptom patterns in an individual and marks potential triggers that bring them on. Researchers hope that the information will be able to help patients better follow their treatment plans, while uncovering new ways doctors can personalize asthma treatment.


Heart disease

Courtesy of Apple

The MyHeart Counts app, developed by Stanford Medicine, tracks activity and uses risk factor and survey information to help researchers more accurately assess a patient’s cardiovascular health and identify how those lifestyle factors affect the heart. The iPhone app will help researchers get a more diverse collection of participants from around the U.S. and the globe in order to deepen what we know about the connection between heart disease and our everyday habits. The goal is that these findings will help participants take a more active role in their own wellbeing.

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