More on the first five Apple ResearchKit apps

By Aditi Pai
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Asthma Health by Mount SinaiDuring Apple's most recent event, the company launched a new health offering -- arguably its most clinically-focused yet -- called ResearchKit. The open source platform helps researchers build medical apps and more easily recruit patients for clinical trials and other research projects.

“iOS apps already help millions of customers track and improve their health,"Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations said in a statement. "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.”

With the patient's permission, researchers can collect certain data points, for example weight, blood pressure, glucose levels, and asthma inhaler use, from HealthKit. HealthKit is a health platform from Apple that launched in September and syncs data from third party apps and devices to a user-facing app called Health. Depending on the data needed for the study, researchers can also use the ResearchKit platform to request access to the smartphone's accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, and GPS sensors. These sensors could help in studies looking at, for example, a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech, and memory.

Already, Apple has partnered with several big name medical institutions to launch five apps that address: asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. These apps are supported on the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and the latest generation of iPod touch.

Here are the first five apps using Apple's ResearchKit platform: 

Asthma Health by Mount Sinai was developed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Weill Cornell Medical College, and LifeMap Solutions. The app aims to help patients adhere to their treatment plans and avoid asthma triggers. Patients can use the app to record daytime and nighttime asthma symptoms as well as how they affect the patient's activities. It also tracks daily usage of controller and rescue inhalers along with asthma triggers: colds, increased physical activity, strong smells, exhaust fumes, house dust, peak flow, and animals. Finally, it tracks emergency department visits, medical visits, and changes in medication. The app will also send updates about when users should take medication and what the air quality is like in a specific location.

To join the study, users need to be 18 or older, have asthma confirmed by a doctor and be prescribed medication for asthma. If the participant smokes, has another lung condition, or has congestive heart failure, they can't participate.

Share the Journey was developed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Penn Medicine, UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit research organization. This study also received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The app aims to analyze why some breast cancer survivors recover faster than others, why patients' symptoms vary over time, and what can be done to improve their symptoms. The app will send patients questionnaires and collect sensor data to track five common symptoms of breast cancer treatment: fatigue, mood, cognitive changes, sleep disturbances, and changes in exercise. ResearchKit will pull data from HealthKit to collect data on steps, sleep, and the patients' birthdate, height, and weight. Patients will also contribute to an in-app diary about their data. According to Sage Bionetworks, recording this data should not take longer than 20 minutes per week.

“One reason to build these apps and run these studies is to see whether we can turn anecdotes into signals, and by generating signals, find windows for intervention,” Stephen Friend, president of Sage Bionetworks and Share the Journey principal investigator said in a statement. “We’re most interested in disease variations, and the hourly, daily, or weekly ebb and flow of symptoms that are not being tracked and completely missed by biannual visits to the doctor.”

To participate in the study, the patient must be a woman between the ages of 18 and 80.

Parkinson mPower study app was also developed by Sage Bionetworks, but this one was created in partnership with University of Rochester, Beijing Institute of Geriatrics, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. mPower stands for "mobile Parkinson observatory for worldwide, evidence-based research". The app description explains that although "living with Parkinson disease means coping with symptoms that change daily," these changes are not tracked frequently enough. The mPower app aims to help users track their symptoms using activities including a memory game, finger tapping, speaking, and walking. The app will also collect data from wearable devices. Although the app aims to further research in Parkinson disease, the researchers encourage people with or without Parkinson disease to download the app.

“We know that Parkinson’s disease symptoms fluctuate over the course of a day, or a week, but that has never been measured objectively,” Ray Dorsey, co-director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a statement. “The mPower study will enable us to learn from patients, and we’ll be able to give information back to patients so they can manage their conditions regardless of where they live and regardless of their mobility.”

GlucoSuccess was developed by Massachusetts General Hospital to help their research team create a crowd-sourced database of health behaviors and glucose values for people with type 2 diabetes, but the researchers also aim to help patients learn how their behaviors affect their health. Participants will track activity duration and intensity, diet information, blood glucose measurements, body weight, and waist size. The app will help remind users to log blood glucose data and record diet information through nutrition tracking app LoseIt. Using this data, GlucoSuccess will be able to provide users with insights into how their fitness and nutrition data relate to "finger-stick blood glucose values". Participants must be 18 or older, live in the US, and have an existing diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes.

MyHeart Counts was developed by Stanford Medicine to help the medical organization improve their understanding of heart health. The app measures activity through the Apple Watch, which offers a heart rate sensor, sensors in the iPhone, or a third-party wearable activity device linked to Health app. It will also ask users -- who are able -- to complete a 6 minute walk test. If users sync their cholesterol results and blood pressure, the MyHeart Counts app will also calculate their risk for future heart attack or stroke and provide them with a “heart age.” Stanford explains that on top of providing reminders about recording activity and sleep and completing surveys on physical activity readiness, the university "may also ask you to test different approaches to help you be more active so we can understand how mobile apps in the future can help prevent heart disease." Participants must be 18 years or older, based in the US, and able to understand English.