Calif. — You will soon be able to participate in
cutting-edge medical research — from the comfort of
a hotly anticipated event focused on its new smartwatch
earlier this month, Apple surprised attendees by
unveiling ResearchKit, a new software platform that taps
the power of the iPhone for medical research.
Researchers can design apps that use the iPhone’s
accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS to gather
information about a subject’s health, and you can
start contributing to science by simply downloading the
remains to be seen whether ResearchKit will
revolutionize medical research: Some are concerned about
the reliability of information that users self-report on
their iPhones, and others note that people who own
pricey Apple gadgets don’t exactly mirror the rest of
the population. And while Apple stresses that the data
will be secure, users may still need to think twice
before sharing sensitive medical information with an app
in an age of incessant breaches.
with iPhones flying off the shelves, ResearchKit opens
up a new frontier for medical researchers, who have long
struggled to find enough participants for their studies
and keep them on board. MyHeart Counts — an app
developed at the Stanford University School of Medicine
that evaluates how patients’ activity levels influence
cardiovascular health — had been downloaded 52,900
times in the United States and Canada as of Friday
morning, just four days after its release, according to
the university. More than 22,000 users who downloaded
the app had consented to the study.
cardiologist Mike McConnell, the principal investigator
on the MyHeart Counts, said such reach is critical for a
study on cardiovascular health.
have a little bit of an odd perspective on all this
because we know heart disease and stroke is still the
No. 1 killer," he said. "We tend to think of
everybody we see as our prevention patient."
downloading MyHeart Counts and reviewing the consent
information, participants are asked to carry their
phones with them as much as possible to track their
activity, in addition to taking a six-minute walking
test. Over the next few months, researchers plan to
expand the study to measure how effectively different
techniques encourage people to become more active,
McConnell said. The app works with the iPhone 5s, 6 and
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
are not compensated for their time, but Stanford tries
to repay them with information about their heart health,
McConnell said. The app gives participants a score that
measures their risk for heart disease or a stroke, which
they can compare to the ideal score for their age range.
you’re asking people to donate data, we certainly want
to give feedback on how they’re doing relative to the
different guidelines," McConnell said.
said the Stanford team is still fine-tuning the
technology to ensure that the iPhone’s perceptions of
"moderate" and "vigorous" exercise
are in line with conventional wisdom.
Counts was part of an initial batch of five apps that
Apple released last week, after announcing ResearchKit.
The other apps study asthma, breast cancer, diabetes and
Parkinson’s disease. Apple says an open source
framework will debut next month.
STORY CAN END HERE)
the medical community sees great promise in ResearchKit,
some caution that a vast sample size is not the only key
to sound medical research. Lisa Schwartz, a professor at
the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical
Practice, said she is concerned that some people who do
not actually suffer from conditions such as asthma or
diabetes may indicate that they do to participate in the
stressed that the rigor of traditional research must be
brought to studies unfolding in the app sphere.
have learned over time how to distinguish ‘snake oils’
from effective treatments," she said. "We need
to apply that same sort of rigorous thinking to this.
Otherwise, it’s more data, but it’s not more
which frequently touts its commitment to privacy,
emphasized that it will not have access to the data, and
participants decide how much to share. Software like
ResearchKit can raise privacy concerns if participants
do not fully understand how their information will be
used, or if the data is compromised in a breach, said
Daniel Gottlieb, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery.
But that should not deter researchers and patients from
experimenting with new tools, he added.
you are in the clinical research world, there is always
a balancing act between privacy protections for the
individual human beings who are the research subjects
and … the important public health objective for all of
us," he said. "This really has enormous
potential to bring new folks into important
worked with medical researchers to have five apps
available that used the ResearchKit framework when the
company announced the software platform March 9.
Counts: Developed by Stanford University School of
Medicine and the University of Oxford, this app measures
activity and uses surveys to get a feel for participants’
lifestyle, then measures the effects on cardiovascular
This app measures users’ gait, dexterity, balance and
other traits through a variety of tests in order to
study the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
the Journey: Patients with breast cancer can use this
app to log their experiences after chemotherapy, which
could help develop new approaches to post-treatment
Health: Asthma sufferers can benefit while generating
data with this app by being alerted when air quality in
their area is poor. It also tracks patterns in asthma
symptoms, helping further knowledge about triggers for
Another app that offers benefits to both parties, this
software gives researchers insight into the effects
certain activities have on glucose levels while
providing patients with diabetes a better understanding
of how their choices affect their well-being.