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Apple uses power of iPhone to aid medical research with Research Kit

David Ludlow
9 Mar 2015
Apple Research Kit - launch apps
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Take part in medical trials from the comfort of your smartphone thanks to the new open source tool, Research Kit

One of the big problems that any medical researcher hits upon is trying to find enough reliable data. Now Apple is stepping into the ring, offering up the power of the iPhone to let its users take part in research programmes.

New apps, developed using the new Apple Research Kit software framework, will allow the iPhone to be turned into diagnostic tools that can aid researchers and give them the data that they need, while also helping to monitor patients.

“ResearchKit is a framework that enables medical researchers to more easily design the apps they’re going to use for clinical studies,” said Stephen Friend at Apple.

Starting today, the first five apps will be available and are designed to help with Breast Cancer, Diabetes, Parkinson’s, Cardiovascular Disease and Asthma. Showcasing the Parkinson’s mPower app, Apple demonstrated how the phone’s sensors and processing could be used to help collect important data.

Using the app, Parkison’s patients can use the tap test to alternately tap the screen, measuring tremors; the iPhone 6’s sensors can measure them walking and accurately detect the patient’s gait; and the voice recording app, records the patient saying “Aaaaaah”, measuring tiny variations in the vocal chords.

By collecting this data in a standardised way, using sensors built into the phone, medical researchers know for a fact that they've got high-quality information that's not open to interpretation. 

All of the data collected is done so anonymously, and all of the apps require permission before they start sending data back, protecting privacy. In order to extend the reach of the programme, Apple has made Research Kit open source, allowing anyone to use it without charge. Research Kit will be available from April, and available to all, with new apps starting to come online after that.

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