Apple ResearchKit lends a helping hand to medics

Apple launched its all new ResearchKit, an open source software for medical and health research, at its much anticipated event in San Francisco today.

The new software has been designed to enable doctors and scientists gather data from participants through new iPhone apps designed specifically for ailments like asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Speaking at the launch, Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations, said, “With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research. ResearchKit gives the scientific community access to a diverse, global population and more ways to collect data than ever before.”

Compatible with iOS 8, the ReseachKit will cater to users using iPhone 5 or later versions, with the exception of the iPhone 5C. The Health app installed in users' devices can keep a record of the users' weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use which can, in turn, be accessed by ResearchKit.

ResearchKit can also request access to the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in iPhone to gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory. Apart from user-specific studies, the ResearchKit can also help in large-scale studies aimed at specific cross-sections of the population.

Once participants complete assigned tasks, researchers can gather and analyze the data using the software. Patricia Ganz, MD, professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Director of Cancer Prevention & Control Research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, said, “The data it will provide takes us one step closer to developing more personalised care. Access to more diverse patient-reported health data will help us learn more about long-term after-effects of cancer treatments and provide us with a better understanding of the breast cancer patient experience.”

Several new health-related iPhone apps like the Asthma Health app, the Share the Journey app, the MyHeart Counts app, the GlucoSuccess app and the Parkinson mPower app have been developed by major medical and research institutions in the United States.

These apps focus on the user's lifestyle, habits, diet as well as symptoms for specific diseases that researchers can gather and analyse.

To be launched in April, ResearchKit will allow researchers to contribute to specific activity modules in the framework, like memory or gait testing, and share them with the global research community to further advance what we know about disease.

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