IBM Watson unveils its first Apple ResearchKit effort with massive, patient-designed sleep study

IBM ($IBM) and the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) have launched the SleepHealth app to conduct a study to help identify connections between sleep habits and health outcomes. This is the first ResearchKit study that has been run by IBM Watson Health--a business unit that's only about a year old that's dedicated to applying IBM's sophisticated computing capabilities, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to healthcare problems.

The SleepHealth app is designed for the iPhone and the Apple Watch. The expectation is that this study will create the world's first repository of sleep data. The study will track the connection between sleep quality and daytime activities, alertness, productivity, general health and medical conditions. It is expected to amass the largest collection of sleep data to date.

Data will be stored on the Watson Health Cloud, where researchers will analyze it to discover patterns and connections. Study participants will themselves be able to help shape the study by contributing ideas for improving it.

"One of our goals at IBM Watson Health is to eliminate silos that hinder collaboration between researchers, patients and clinicians, and create opportunities for these communities to share and learn from one another," said Watson Health CHO Dr. Kyu Rhee in a statement. "Watson Health and our ecosystem of partners help advance our understanding of how an essential, yet often under-appreciated factor like sleep impacts so many health outcomes like heart disease and diabetes."

One in four Americans experiences sleep problems, with an estimated 25 million having sleep apnea and 10% having chronic insomnia. Chronic sleep loss, from either a medical condition or a particular lifestyle, has been associated with increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, cancer, depression, motor-vehicle crashes and reduced quality of life.

The Apple Watch version of the SleepHealth app uses the accelerometer and gyroscope in the device to measure and record movement such as shifting position during sleep. It will also use the heart rate monitor to detect sleep. It will also prompt people on good sleep habits and, with the latest operating system, enable the app to reduce light exposure before sleep with Apple's new Night Shift feature.

Using Watson Health, researchers will also be able to integrate the SleepHealth app data with other sources of data such as medical literature, treatment guidelines, claims data and clinical data. And once they have a mountain of data, researchers of course may opt to apply the AI capabilities of Watson Analytics for insights.

Carl Stepnowsky, chief scientific officer of the American Sleep Apnea Association

"We've made life the laboratory for this study by crowd-sourcing data and input to achieve an unprecedented understanding of sleep in a non-invasive manner," said Carl Stepnowsky, the principal investigator for the study, an associate professor at University of California, San Diego and ASAA's CSO.

Ultimately, the study is expected to help develop personalized and public health interventions to address a variety of issues such as mitigating workplace fatigue and early detection of the symptoms of mental health disorders including Alzheimer's disease.

The app is free to anyone in the U.S., with international versions slated to follow. Study participants must be at least 18 years old. Individual subject data will be de-identified to maintain privacy.

"SleepHealth is the first ResearchKit study developed by an all patient team of researchers and advocates, and we believe it has the potential to be the largest international sleep study ever. Our ultimate goal is to uncover patterns to advance good sleep practices, optimize health and predict who is at risk for sleep disorders or other medical conditions," said Adam Amdur, ASAA's chief patient officer and co-investigator on the study.

- here is the announcement

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