Apple ResearchKit: users become the developers “guinea pigs”

4 min reading
Apple ResearchKit: users become the developers “guinea pigs”
Apple ResearchKit: users become the developers “guinea pigs”


Health is one sector in which new technological advances could change the entire current ecosystem. Software development, the famous wearables, the Internet of Things and Big Data are now causing a true revolution within the medical field. Apple, a company known for its innovative and creative solutions, has just launched Apple ResearchKit, an open source software platform designed especially for developers.

Apple's idea is to provide the research community with a tool that makes it possible to launch applications that can contribute added value to medical research and studies and use the enormous benefits of its star device, the iPhone, in order to place Apple at the center of that transformation process. 

Millions of smartphone users throughout the world have an iPhone, a device capable of extracting and storing a large amount of the personal data necessary for creating a medical record: 

– Full name.

– Date of birth. 

– Medical conditions. 

– Allergic reactions. 

– Medication taken regularly. 

– Weight and height.

– Blood type. 

– Motion patterns. 

Now we have users, mobile devices and data, but we are still missing a tool to connect all of this to true digital health. 

What can Apple ResearchKit do?

Today, when we need to undergo a complete check-up there are many tests that have to be done at a hospital. Apple proposes something similar, but from a totally different perspective. Using the applications from the ResearchKit, any patient can accumulate valuable medical data on their device, provide doctors with access to that information and be a proactive part in the creation of their own medical record.

Additionally, there are two other important elements: 

– The data allows the user to compare diets, exercises or vacations and determine what routines are most appropriate for their health. 

– The user can also sign up for group medical studies that use their information to make major advances in the field of research. 

You provide your data for the common good

Thanks to the enormous penetration of Apple and its iPhone on the market, ResearchKit can become a great data facilitator for researchers. The Cupertino company believes that its new platform offers many advantages for researchers and developers that will provide support:

– Medical research does not exist without volunteers who offer themselves for tests and provide their data. This platform offers a simple way of facilitating the storage and transfer of information for medical studies.

– If group studies increase considerably thanks to these new abilities, the results of research should be more reliable. Additionally, more frequent data gives us more solid results: with the new devices, a user is a 24×7 patient throughout the year.

– Some of the features of the iPhone, such as the accelerometer, barometer and gyroscope, are very valuable sources of information for any researcher. ResearchKit would easily collect all of this data.

Open source platforms and applications

Apple has launched ResearchKit as an open source framework for a very obvious reason: if all developers can access the code from other applications and their ideas can help others to improve theirs, this Apple platform could start a medical revolution.

Additionally, the company already has a very powerful ally within its own structure: the HealthKit, the health and fitness application packet included on the latest Apple devices and the iOS 8 operating system. In that kit, users already have over 900 applications.

If the user provides access to data such as sports habits using the pedometer, heart rate or calorie consumption through HealthKit, the researchers and developers behind ResearchKit will be able to make major advances in the area of scientific research. 

Research applications for various illnesses

The ResearchKit framework has three customizable modules that developers can use as-is to create any application or use the open-source code to create similar modules from scratch:

– Surveys: this module provides developers with a simple user interface that enables medical surveys to be created quickly. 

– Informed consent: this module provides developers with visual informed consent templates, which make it possible to explain specific details on the study and the information that needs to be collected. Additionally, it makes it possible to obtain the signatures of future participants in the study.  

– Active tasks: this module makes it possible to go beyond the two modules listed above. Some researchers can require more information than that extracted by the HealthKit application and the Core Motion API. The University of Oxford, Sage Bionetworks and the University of Rochester have created additional features for the collection of data on motor activities, aptitude, cognition and voice.

In ResearchKit, applications have been developed for researching illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, Parkinson's and breast cancer: 

– Diabetes: Massachusetts General Hospital has developed an application called GlucoSuccess that allows researchers to understand what aspects influence glucose levels: from physical activity to diet. And also for users to understand what type of food, habits and exercises are good for their illness.

– Asthma: Mount Sinai Hospital, the Weill Cornell Medical College and LifeMap have developed an app called Asthma Health that enables the collection of data for researching the most likely causes of asthma. The ultimate goal is to personalize treatments based on the patients.

– Parkinson's: the University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks have created the mPower application to measure data that can be key in the early detection of illnesses such as Parkinson's: dexterity, balance, memory and gait.

– Breast cancer: the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, Penn Medicine and Sage Bionetworks developed the application Share the Journey. The idea of the researchers and developers behind the app is to extract valuable data on the mid and long-term effects of chemotherapy on patients.

– Cardiovascular illnesses: Stanford Medicine and the University of Oxford have launched the MyHeart Counts application. The app aims to collect data that makes it possible to determine precise relationships between life habits and heart disease. 

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