Apple launches software platform for medical research

Apple is transforming the ubiquitous iPhone into a research tool with its new open-source ResearchKit software.

The ResearchKit framework will go live next month, but several health research organizations, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the University of Rochester and Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine, have already rolled out five health-related apps that are ready to accept patient information.

Apple said in a statement that the new framework will make it easier for researchers to look at a broad array of data because the apps are available where patients are, erasing barriers like the driving distance between a willing participant and a clinical trial research site.

Dana-Farber's “Share the Journey” app is for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer as well as women who have not. The app tracks common breast-cancer treatment symptoms, including fatigue and cognitive difficulties, by using a combination of surveys and health diaries, and patients track activities that may or may not have an impact on their symptoms as well as their progress meeting exercise goals. Apple said in a statement that gathering information about women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer will help researchers sift cancer-treatment-related symptoms from “symptoms” that “may be part of the normal aging process.”

“This is an opportunity to work on improving health by harnessing a technology that is already part of their daily lives,” Dr. Ann Partridge, a senior physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a statement.

She added that getting the information in real time makes the app “a very powerful research tool to ultimately improve how we counsel patients about what helps and what doesn't help after cancer treatment.”

The University of Rochester's Parkinson's mPower app users the iPhone's sensors to track symptoms through a memory game and activities like finger-tapping, speaking and walking.