Apple turned your iPhone into a medical research device with the launch of ResearchKit six months ago. Several researchers have come forward with data from the apps they’ve developed that indicated ResearchKit was helping the medical community learn more about people than ever before. But now we have official word from Apple on ResearchKit’s success: More than 100,000 people are using ResearchKit apps, which means scientists now have access to hundreds of thousands of data points they wouldn’t have had before.
“In just six months, ResearchKit apps studying everything from asthma and diabetes to Parkinson’s disease are already providing insights to scientists around the world and more than 100,000 participants are choosing to contribute their data to advance science and medical research,” Apple Senior VP Jeff Williams said in a statement.
ResearchKit lets doctors develop iPhone apps to study medical conditions. People who use those apps must consent to their data being used for research purposes, a process which can be long and drawn out in a physical research setting but quick and painless in an app.
New apps for autism, melanoma, and epilepsy
Three new ResearchKit apps debuted in the App Store on Thursday, adding to the variety of medical conditions already being studied by ResearchKit apps. Duke University’s Autism & Beyond app uses the iPhone’s front-facing camera to detect emotions in a child’s face when they watch videos on the phone.
Oregon Health & Science University worked with the Knight Cancer Institute to developer a melanoma-screening app called Mole Mapper, which can’t diagnose skin cancer, but can help you keep a close eye on your skin by allowing you to photograph and and measure mole size. A mole that changes shape or color over time can be a warning sign of melanoma, and Knight Cancer Institute researchers hope the data they collect from all those mole photos will help them develop melanoma-detecting algorithms.
“Melanoma is the poster child for early detection,” Knight Cancer Institute Melanoma Research Program Director Sancy Leachman said in a statement. “If we can identify melanomas earlier by creating a simple way for patients to share images of their moles we can learn more about the progression of the disease. Expanding our pool of research participants is a critical step in gaining the information we need. ResearchKit makes this easier than ever with the development of a simple iPhone app.”
The last app in the trio that launched Thursday is EpiWatch, the seizure-tracking app for Apple Watch we covered here. EpiWatch uses the watch’s sensors to help epilepsy patients document their seizures in real time.
More than 50 researchers have contributed to the open-sourced ResearchKit framework by adding ways to measure motor skills, memory, fitness, and voice. Early ResearchKit apps encourage patients to track symptoms of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer treatment, and more. These apps can’t diagnose or treat conditions, but they do provide researchers with a wealth of information they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, and they also give patients a way to share that information with their own doctors. Some apps have even added ways for patients to add the information they track to their electronic health records.
It’s still early days for ResearchKit, but the data so far is encouraging, and could lead to breakthroughs in medical research.