October 23, 2015

Apple’s New ResearchKit Studies 

Travis Good, MD

Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer

Back in March, Apple released their iOS open-source clinical research platform, ResearchKit, that focused on health conditions, such as breast cancer and diabetes, leading to over 100,000 participants contributing their health data. Now, not even a year later, the mogul tech giant has released three new trials geared towards epilepsy, melanoma, and autism. Until recently, clinical trials could only extend as far as researchers could demographically and geographically recruit, but by moving clinical trials to a mobile based platform, like the iPhone or Apple Watch, researchers can now get exponentially more valuable data sets that can potentially accelerate medical research.

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. - Robert Kennedy

EpiWatch App & John Hopkins

Researchers from John Hopkins University officially launched the EpiWatch app on October 15 to collect data from patients throughout each stage of a seizure. Utilizing the open source framework of Apple’s ResearchKit, the app is able to collect data pertaining to the recurrent characteristics common of seizures, such as unconventional responsiveness. With more than 3 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide currently living with epilepsy, researches will by using the collected data to create and implement new tools to monitor and manage the condition. Users will be able to activate the app when they are experiencing an oncoming seizure and the app will record heart rate and movements while also testing the user’s responsiveness by playing a purposeful memory game. This is the first medical research app to involve a cognitive analysis of this kind. The data collection is expected to take place throughout the next year or two and it is anticipated to provide momentous results.

Autism & Beyond & Duke University

Also released, a ResearchKit app titled Autism & Beyond, developed by a team of researchers from Duke University and the Duke Medical Center, is aiming to learn more about autism in young children across all corners of the world. This well-intentioned mobile application will take users through questionnaires that will act as a screening tool and videos that will provide analysis of facial expressions in order to provide feedback towards potential developmental disorders in children. The app developers at Duke strongly relay that this app is not intended to serve as a diagnostic tool, but rather a method for families to receive feedback and encourage further consultation from a healthcare provider when seen appropriate.

Mole Mapper & OHSU

Lastly, another ResearchKit app, Mole Mapper, was constructed to learn about melanoma risks by having users contribute photos of their moles to track evolution over time. The app was designed by Dan Webster, a cancer biologist, and Oregon Health and Science University’s Sancy Leachman, M.d., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Dermatology at the OHSU School of Medicine and director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Research Program. Webster and Leachman have enabled the app’s users to own and maintain their images for personalized use but can also share with OHSU’s researchers by signing an electronic consent form in an effort to further studies on detection and prevention. More than 4,000 participants have contributed to this research and Mole Mapper is anticipated to expand to the tens of thousands in the near future.

Apple’s ResearchKit has created a lot of excitement and energy that the industry has never seen before. Healthcare innovation is taking center stage and the world is reaping the benefits. Continue to check back regularly as we will be tracking the progress of these studies and others similar.

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