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Apple’s ResearchKit a ‘Game Changer’ for Medical Research

Apple ResearchKitApple introduced new software that will turn every iPhone into a sophisticated medical diagnostic tool.  ResearchKit will allow researchers to greatly expand every medical trial by immediately reaching potential study participants directly through their iPhone.

“One of the biggest challenges researchers have is in recruiting,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations. “With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research.”

The traditional model for medical studies includes advertising for potential qualified participants; traveling to a hospital; completing a series of questionnaires; and repeating these activities weekly, monthly, quarterly or however (in)frequently schedules permit.  But the iPhone immediately can perform all of the necessary data generating activities of a medical trial and from an extremely large pool of candidates.

“We have sent out over 60,000 letters,” said Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, in regard to the difficulties in finding candidates for a recent medical trial. “Those 60,000 letters have netted 305 women” qualified to participate in the project.

Apple developed ResearchKit with the help of some of the world’s leading research institutions including Penn Medicine, Stanford University, Weill Cornell Medical College, University of Oxford, and many more. Beginning today, ResearchKit will offer apps for projects targeting asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

During his presentation at Apple’s event Tuesday, Williams described one feature of a ResearchKit app using the iPhone: “Say ‘Ahhh’ into the microphone and the processor will detect minute vocal chord variations that assesses the level of Parkinson’s [disease].”

“The concept that I could kick out a survey to patients every day, every week that will show up on their phones and improve their health,” said Schmitz, is “a game changer.”

Apple unveiled ResearchKit today as part of the event that officially launched Apple Watch, the new wearable product the combines common mobile technologies like phone calls, email, messaging and apps, with popular health and fitness features of smart watches.  Oh, and it tells time too.

-Brad Broker

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