Apple's ResearchKit now available to medical researchers

By Aditi Pai
11:26 am
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Parkinson mPowerApple announced that ResearchKit, its open source platform that helps researchers build medical apps and recruit patients for smartphone-based clinical studies, is now open researchers and developers.

After going live in early March, the first five ResearchKit-enabled apps have recruited over 60,000 participants collectively, Apple said.

One of the first five apps offered, called 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. 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.

Another app already available, called 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. 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.

“We are delighted and encouraged by the response to ResearchKit from the medical and research community and the participants contributing to medical research," Apple SVP of Operations Jeff Williams said in a statement. "Studies that historically attracted a few hundred participants are now attracting participants in the tens of thousands. Medical researchers all over the world are actively exploring how ResearchKit can help them study even more diseases, and we believe the impact on global understanding of health and wellness will be profound.” 

Apple explained that the open source framework will allow any medical researcher to take advantage of the initial modules Apple created in ResearchKit, but developers can build new modules based on the open source code and contribute them to ResearchKit. The initial customizable modules include participant consent, surveys, and active tasks.

The participant consent module allows researchers to take advantage of "visual e-consent" templates, which can be customized to explain the study details and get signatures from participants. Researchers can also use the module to attach videos that explain the study and a quiz that will confirm that the participant understands the study.

The survey module offers users a pre-built user interface to add questions and answers for participants to complete. Researchers can use the active task module to gather more specific data for their study by asking participants to perform activities that generate data using iPhone’s sensors. The first set of tasks that the iPhone can measure include motor activities, fitness, cognition, and voice.

Shortly after Apple announced ResearchKit, MobiHealthNews pointed out that although Apple says its platform is open source, it's still unclear how well these platforms will integrate with Android, which powers more mobile devices worldwide than any other OS.

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