Apple’s ResearchKit Used for Autism, Epilepsy, Melanoma Studies

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Apple's ResearchKit platform launched earlier this year with research programs for Parkinson's disease, asthma, diabetes, and breast cancer, and now that's expanded to include autism, epilepsy, and melanoma. The studies let researchers collect data from a wider range of people compared to traditional clinical programs.

ResearchKit used for new clinical studiesResearchKit is an open platform that lets doctors and scientists gather accurate realtime data from study participants via their iPhone and Apple Watch. The initial studies drew in thousands of participants in their first few days, giving researchers access to far more data than they could've collected by traditional means.

The new autism study is being conducted by Duke University and uses the iPhone's FaceTime camera to track facial reactions to different stimuli. Researchers are using that data to look for potential autism indicators in hopes of developing an app that can help with early diagnosis.

Johns Hopkins is conducting an epilepsy study via Apple Watch to track heart rate changes during seizures. A post-event questionnaire tracks whether or not subjects had any warning ahead of the seizure as well as how severe the event was, and also gives reminders for medicines and can send alerts to caregivers if they remain unresponsive for too long.

The melanoma study comes from Oregon Health and Science University to track moles that potentially lead to skin cancer. Participants use their iPhone to snap monthly photos of their moles to track any changes, and researchers are hoping the data will lead to more effective early screening processes.

ResearchKit is already making dramatic changes in how clinical studies are conducted and has reduced the time and resources needed to work with large groups. Stanford Cardiovascular Health medical director Alan Yeung shared his perspective when ResearchKit launched saying, "To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country." Through ResearchKit, no additional medical centers are needed, and studies can get thousands of participants in days or weeks.

Apple decision to make ResearchKit open source looks like a smart move, too. The company said over 50 researchers and developers have already contributed to the platform.

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Apple Watch and the iOS devices, assisted by the HealthKit and ResearchKit are game changers for medical science and clinical trials.

Most of the readers here are not aware of the flurry of activity in the background in the medial community to take advantage of these, in addition to what is already being done with iPhone and iPad for clinical management and doctor-patient communication, but it is Star Trek level impressive.

The best part? It’s just getting started. As the sensors on the Apple Watch become more capable, we’ll be able to do so much more with clinical trials and patient management.

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