Apple Launches "ResearchKit" for Medical Studies

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Patients with asthma, Parkinson’s, breast cancer and other conditions can use iPhones to take part in medical research studies using their devices, Apple announced Monday.

It’s already been working with some big research institutions to design apps using ResearchKit, which lets patients use iPhones interactively to send researchers data about heart rate, coordination and symptoms.

“ResearchKit is a framework that enables medical researchers to more easily design the apps they’re going to use for clinical studies,” said Dr. Stephen Friend, president and CEO of Sage Bionetworks, which is working with Apple to develop the apps, said in a statement.

“You decide whether to participate. You decide how your data is shared. You can see the data you’re sharing.”

Apple will not see data that people are sending to their doctors, the company said, while also stressing the ease of use.

“I think it has the potential to really change the way research is done."

“Parkinson’s patients can record their symptoms with iPhone just by saying ‘ahhhh'," Apple’s Jeff Williams told the company’s on-stage event unveiling new technology for the year.

“I think it has the potential to really change the way research is done,” said Dr. Ednan Bajwa, director of the medical intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, who is not involved in any of the research.

It can save time and money for researchers who are gathering mundane data from patients, said Bajwa.

“In an area where budgets are being slashed, it could really take the pressure off,” he said.

UCLA’s one of the universities that has designed an app aimed at breast cancer patients called Share the Journey.

“The data it will provide takes us one step closer to developing more personalized care," said UCLA researcher Dr. Patricia Ganz.

"Access to more diverse patient-reported health data will help us learn more about long-term aftereffects of cancer treatments and provide us with a better understanding of breast cancer patients' experience." Patients can use the app to report five common consequences of breast cancer treatment: fatigue, cognitive difficulties, sleep disturbances, mood changes and a worse exercise performance.

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“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,” said Friend, of Sage Sage Bionetworks. He also a principal investigator for Share the Journey.

Stanford University School of Medicine launched a heart health app. “We are looking for everyone who is curious as to how healthy their heart is to download this app,” said Stanford’s Dr. Alan Yeung. “Users will be able to see their activity and fitness levels, and their ‘heart age’. We’ll also be able to study what motivates people to improve their heart health.”

The MyHeart Counts app can use the iPhone’s motion sensors to track physical activity and to collect data during a six-minute walk test.

“Preventive medicine hasn’t worked by having doctors make to-do lists for their patient, then seeing them six months later and hoping they did everything on the list,” said Dr. Michael McConnell, principal investigator for the MyHeart Counts study. “We need to understand how to reach out to modify behavior long before we end up having to see someone for a heart attack or stroke.”

“The data it will provide takes us one step closer to developing more personalized care."

A team at the Mt. Sinai school of medicine designed an app to help asthma patients monitor their symptoms, and a team at the University of Rochester came up with an app that Parkinson’s patients can use to report symptoms.

There’s also a coming facility for people with diabetes to log their blood sugar levels, Apple said.

Bajwa warns that there will always be questions about accuracy. The apps rely on patients to use them correctly.

“I would be a little bit worried about the hype,” Bajwa told NBC News. “The measurements you can make will be limited by the tool.”

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