Apple has unveiled ResearchKit, a big data initiative that will help doctors and scientists gather data from participants who have iPhones. Apple expects ResearchKit for iOS to provide the foundation for studies on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and more.

Apple unveiled ResearchKit during the Apple Watch launch event earlier today -- though ResearchKit itself seems more closely aligned with the iPhone. Developers can use ResearchKit, available in April, to contribute specific software modules and drive medical research worldwide.

How ResearchKit Works

When granted permission by the user, iOS apps can access data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and more, Apple said. ResearchKit can also request from a user, access to the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in iPhone -- to gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory, Apple added.

"ResearchKit will make it easier for medical researchers to launch large-scale studies, accessing a broad cross-section of the population—not just those within driving distance of an institution," Apple stated. "Study participants can complete tasks or submit surveys right from the app, so researchers spend less time on paperwork and more time analyzing data."

Early ResearchKit Apps

Sample early adopter offerings and apps include:

The Asthma Health App: Developed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and LifeMap Solutions, the app is designed to facilitate asthma patient education and self-monitoring, promote positive behavioral changes and reinforce adherence to treatment plans according to current asthma guidelines. 

The Share the Journey App: Developed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Penn Medicine, Sage Bionetworks and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the app is a research study that aims to understand why some breast cancer survivors recover faster than others, why their symptoms vary over time and what can be done to improve symptoms. Share the Journey will use surveys and sensor data on iPhone to collect and track fatigue, mood and cognitive changes, sleep disturbances and reduction in exercise. 

The MyHeart Counts App: Developed by Stanford Medicine, the app measures activity and uses risk factor and survey information to help researchers more accurately evaluate how a participant’s activity and lifestyle relate to cardiovascular health. By studying these relationships on a broad scale, researchers will be able to understand better how to keep hearts healthier. 

The GlucoSuccess App: Developed by Massachusetts General Hospital, the app strives to understand how various aspects of a person’s life—diet, physical activity and medications—affect blood glucose levels. The app can also help participants identify how their food choices and activity relate to their best glucose levels, enabling them to clearly see correlations and take more active roles in their own well-being. 

The Parkinson mPower App: Developed by Sage Bionetworks and the University of Rochester, the app helps people living with Parkinson’s disease track their symptoms by recording activities using sensors in iPhone. These activities include a memory game, finger tapping, speaking and walking. Activity and survey data from your phone are combined with data from many other participants to fuel Parkinson’s research at a scale never before possible, making this the world’s largest and most comprehensive study of this disease. 

Getting Started

ResearchKit will be released as an open source framework in April 2015, the company said.

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