Apple & UCLA kick off device-driven depression and anxiety study

The three-year investigation will use iPhones, Apple Watches and Beddit trackers to monitor sleep, physical activity, heart rate and other daily signs.
By Dave Muoio
02:05 pm
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The University of California, Los Angeles announced yesterday the launch of an Apple-backed study that will use the tech company's devices to measure how sleep, physical activity and heart rate relate to depression and anxiety.

The three-year effort launches this week. It will recruit 150 UCLA Health patients for its pilot phase, the university wrote in an announcement. Another 3,000 participants will be targeted when the study kicks into full gear between 2021 and 2023.

“Current approaches to treating depression rely almost entirely on the subjective recollections of depression sufferers," Dr. Nelson Freimer, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the study's principal investigator, said in a statement. "This is an important step for obtaining objective and precise measurements that guide both diagnosis and treatment.”

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Specifically, the investigation will provide participants Apple devices, such as an iPhone or Apple Watch and a Beddit sleep monitor, as well as a downloaded research app to collect behavior data from participants. Access to the data, the partners stressed, will be limited to study researchers, and that data will be de-identified. The data will be examined alongside clinical interviews and questionnaires to uncover new insights on depression and anxiety.

WHY IT MATTERS

Many in the digital health sector and health research communities have highlighted the role consumer technologies can play in behavioral-health monitoring. Rather than relying on subjective questionnaires or imperfect activity logs, the devices offer a means to collect objective measures of patients' activities and routines. This project from UCLA and Apple will be the latest effort to put this approach to the test.

But also of note is the inclusion of Beddit sleep monitors. Apple purchased the company for an undisclosed sum back in the spring of 2017, but waited until 2019 to release an Apple-branded version of the device. While longtime users (particularly those on Android) complained about the new offering's reduced capabilities and features, suffice it to say that the purchase hasn't positioned Apple as the front-runner in digital sleep-health monitoring some might have expected. The technology's inclusion in the UCLA study, however, is some reassurance that the Cupertino company is still interested in exploring the role of these devices.

THE LARGER TREND

Apple has been diving headfirst into clinical research partnerships over the last few years.

The tech giant kicked off the Apple Heart Study with Stanford back in 2017, and announced those results early in 2019. A bit later, the company announced and launched three more studies that also employed the Apple Watch’s various health-tracking features. Consumers can enroll in those studies by downloading the company’s Research app.

Also worth a mention is a feasibility study conducted jointly by Apple, Eli Lilly and Evidation Health that also employed iPhones, Watches and Beddit devices.

The most recent of these high-profile efforts is a Johnson & Johnson and Evidation collaboration focused on engaging the Medicare population to improve cardiovascular outcomes. The so-called Heartline Study began enrollment in February, and is scheduled to run for roughly two years.

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