Apple announces medical app research platform, ResearchKit

By Brian Dolan
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Apple medical ResearchKitAt an event today Apple announced a new, open source platform for medical research called ResearchKit, which integrates with Apple's previously launched health data exchange HealthKit. Apple has already begun working with about a half dozen healthcare systems to create specific disease research apps. ResearchKit will launch next month.

"We are incredibly confident that [ResearchKit] will have a profound impact on all of us," Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the event in San Francisco.

The first few apps made with ResearchKit include ones focused on research into Parkinson’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and breast cancer. While ResearchKit won't launch for another month, these first few ResearchKit-enabled apps are available today.

The University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks worked together to , using Apple's ResearchKit. mPower aims to make it easier for people to sign up for studies and providing consent to do so. The app can detect symptoms in Parkinson's patients just by having them say "ahhhh" into the phone. It also includes a finger tapping feature that can detect symptoms, too. Finally, the app can analyze the user's gait and balance by having them walk 20 steps then turn around and take 20 steps back. 

The other ResearchKit-enabled apps that Apple briefly mentioned on-stage: Massachusetts General Hospital used ResearchKit to build a diabetes research app called GlucoSuccess. Stanford and the University of Oxford used it to create a heart disease research app called MyHeart Counts. Mount Sinai Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College teamed up to create an asthma research app called Asthma Health. Dana Farber Cancer Institute, UCLA School of Public Health, Penn Medicine, and

Apple's VP of Operations Jeff Williams also mentioned that Mount Sinai and Cornell's team were equipping some of their app's New York City-based users with connected inhalers and spirometers to better map their symptoms. They are also swabbing various surfaces around the city to look for pathogens and map symptoms captured by the app and the connected devices to areas of the city known to have had pathogens present.

Williams said that "it's important that everyone has access" to ResearchKit, which is why Apple is making it open source. That means Android users and those using other smartphones could also potentially make use of it in the future.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also made a few announcements about HealthKit and the Apple Watch. Cook announced that there are now more than 900 apps that share or pull data from the company's HealthKit data exchange. He also said the Apple Watch would offer about 18 hours of battery life between charges. The Apple Watch will commercially launch on April 24th.

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