Apple unwraps new tool for medical researchers

In a surprise move, Apple has announced a new health app that works with its iPhone and HealthKit — and it’s running on open-health-feature-in-Apple-Watch-1source software.

“As we worked on HealthKit we came across an even broader impact that iPhone could make and that is on medical research,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said during a live event. “Perhaps the most profound change iPhone will make is on our health.”

With the ResearchKit app, Apple intends for the software framework to enable more people to participate in research, and for innovators to build apps on top of Apple’s platform. The company also revealed five apps already available.

Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, introduced ResearchKit as the answer to several problems plaguing the medical research community – namely, small sample sizes, issues with subjective data and the frequency of data collected. “Disease symptoms ebb and flow daily, almost hourly,” he said, thus requiring a platform that can gather data in real-time from a wide range of sources.

Kathryn Schmitz, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a video at Apple’s event that UPenn has sent out more than 60,000 letters trying to recruit patients for a breast cancer study, but netted only some 300 participants. The framework will also enable researchers to collect data in near real-time, changing the scale from months to seconds.

While ResearchKit will roll out in April, Apple has already developed five apps, working with leading healthcare providers around the world, and they’re available immediately. The apps target five of the most prevalent health concerns: diabetes, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

Highlighting the Parkinson’s app, Williams noted that the iPhone can now be used by Parkinson’s patients and their providers to measure the progression of the disease through handwriting, speech and balance and gait. He noted that a user can have his or her gait tracked and analyzed simply by walking with an iPhone.

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