Apple unveils large-scale research studies tracking activity, hearing and women's health

Apple plans to launch three healthcare studies—conducted through a new research-gathering app—to test how well its Apple Watch can track a person’s cardiovascular health and mobility, changes in their hearing and women’s health and fertility.

Conducted in partnership with academic and healthcare institutions, the studies aim to tap nearly any Apple product customer as a potential research participant. The tech giant’s plans to make its Research app available as a free download later this year.

Apple’s previous heart-focused study canvassed more than 400,000 people in the U.S. over just eight months, searching for irregular heart rhythms that may be linked to atrial fibrillation by using the smartwatch’s pulse rate tracker.

“With the Apple Heart Study, we found that we could positively impact medical research in ways that help patients today and that make contributions that will benefit future generations,” Apple’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams said in a statement. “Today’s announcement carries our commitment to health even further by engaging with participants on a larger scale than ever before.”

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The new studies include the long-term Apple Women’s Health Study, conducted alongside the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It will track participants’ menstrual cycles and gynecological conditions to help build a digital tool that assesses a person’s risk of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility and osteoporosis as well as pregnancy and transitions to menopause.

“This is an exciting opportunity for NIEHS researchers to contribute to the study design and use the resulting data to answer novel questions, not only important to women of reproductive age, but to women of all ages,” said Dale Sandler, chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch.

The Apple Heart and Movement Study, with the American Heart Association and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will aim to link digital biomarkers such as walking pace and flights of stairs climbed with hospitalizations, falls, heart health and overall quality of life.

Meanwhile, Apple will work with the University of Michigan to collect sound exposure and hearing impact data over time. The results of the Apple Hearing Study will also be shared with the World Health Organization (WHO) and its Make Listening Safe initiative, according to the company.

“With over a billion young people who could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening, WHO is addressing this challenge through raising awareness and setting new standards for safe listening,” said Shelly Chadha, technical officer of prevention of deafness and hearing loss at the WHO. “The knowledge gained through this study will contribute to future public health action in this field.”