American Sleep Apnea Association, IBM launch sleep-focused ResearchKit app

By Aditi Pai

The American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) has partnered with IBM Watson to launch a ResearchKit study app, called SleepHealth. Researchers aim to use the app to explore the connection between sleep habits and health outcomes. It's also the first ResearchKit app to partner with IBM Watson.

"We've made life the laboratory for this study by crowd-sourcing data and input to achieve an unprecedented understanding of sleep in a non-invasive manner," said Carl Stepnowsky, the principal investigator for the study, an associate professor at University of California San Diego, and ASAA's chief science officer. "This study also marks the Association's commitment to patient-led research and data-driven discovery. With ResearchKit and Watson Health Cloud, this new app will help us build the world's largest longitudinal study to collect data on both healthy and unhealthy sleepers that can be published as an open study and shared with other researchers."

Participants can use the app to track their activity, monitor their alertness level each day, and complete morning and evening check-ins about their daily activities as well as sleep quality. Users are also able to contribute their own ideas for research topics, survey questions, engagement activities and messaging. All data that is shared with the app is stored on the Watson Health Cloud, which IBM launched in April 2015.

The app will help participants learn more about trends in their daily activities and sleep. It offers educational materials as well, including a news feed that will populate with the latest news on sleep research.

Although the study works with just the sensors in the iPhone, participants with an Apple Watch can sync data from their device to the app. 

After a few years of running this study, researchers said they aim to develop public health interventions for a number of sleep issues including helping athletes train efficiently, lessening workplace fatigue, and detecting early symptoms of Alzheimer's or other mental health conditions.

A few months ago, an Apple executive explained to MobiHealthNews that one of the goals for ResearchKit is to help those building truly medical, smartphone-based interventions to get them to market:

“One way to think about ResearchKit is as the beginning of a pipeline that will lead to more apps that are screening, diagnostic, management and treatment apps,” Bud Tribble, MD, PhD, Vice President of Software Technology at Apple said. “In fact, it is a necessary, essential first step to figure out what is needed to develop these apps — what works and what doesn’t — before you move into, ultimately, clinical study apps and clearance to use them for diagnosis and treatment.”

By our count, there are well over a dozen ResearchKit apps, including this new one from ASAA. Other ResearchKit developers include Yale, UCSF, John Hopkins, and The University of Nebraska Medical Center.