Apple broadens reach of ResearchKit with a trio of new medical studies

EpiWatch app--Courtesy of Johns Hopkins

Three top U.S. academic medical centers will use Apple's ($AAPL) ResearchKit to develop apps to track patient information on new clinical studies on autism, epilepsy and melanoma.

Duke Medicine, Johns Hopkins and Oregon Health & Science University said they will use the open-source data-collection platform, which debuted earlier this year, to collect data from mobile health apps and related devices that connect to iPhones, iPads and the Apple Watch, the company said.

Since Apple announced ResearchKit in March, over 100,000 patients are enrolled in more than 50 studies that use the platform. Researchers and developers have continued to expand the platform's framework by adding modules, active tasks and custom surveys, the company said. The Active Task module allows researchers to collect targeted data of participants while they perform activities monitored by advanced sensors in the iPhone that can measure motor activities, fitness, cognition and voice.

"In just 6 months, ResearchKit apps studying everything from asthma and diabetes to Parkinson's disease, are already providing insights to scientists around the world," Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, said in a statement.

Here are the new research studies using ResearchKit:

Duke University and Duke Medicine's "Autism & Beyond" study that will use the front-facing camera on an iPhone to detect signs of developmental issues at younger ages. The app uses emotion detection algorithms to measure a child's reaction to videos shown on the device. The long-term goal of the study is to develop an automated method of screening for conditions such as autism and anxiety.

Johns Hopkins developed the EpiWatch app, which is a first-of-its-kind study using the Apple Watch and ResearchKit, that will use the sensors in the device to detect the onset and duration of seizures. Researchers hope to capture accelerometer and heart rate data to form a signature of the patient's seizures, and send an alert to a family member or caregiver. The app also will keep a log of the participant's responsiveness during an event as well as allow them to help manage their condition. About 2 million people in the U.S. have epilepsy.

Oregon Health & Science University is using digital images taken by an iPhone to study mole growth and melanoma risks as an effort to help manage and improve skin health. The digital photos measure mole size over time and allows patients to document mole changes and share them directly with their doctor. Researchers will be able to capture the images for study to help create detection algorithms that could be used in future studies to potentially screen for melanoma.

"One way to think about ResearchKit is as the beginning of a pipeline that will lead to more apps that are screening, diagnostic, management and treatment apps," Dr. Bud Tribble, vice president of technology at Apple, told MobiHealth News.

Though this is all part of Big Data, participants must give their permission for their information to be shared, and Apple continues to go to great lengths to reassure potential users of the apps that their data will be kept safe and secure.

- see the Apple release