Apple Introduces Research Kit, an API For Clinical Trials

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During a media event in Cupertino today, Apple SVP of Operations Jeff Williams unveiled a new API called Research Kit that was built as an open source framework and will help medical researchers collect data from research subjects. The new framework was co-developed by Apple and a group of academic institutions including Stanford University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and the University of Oxford.

Research Kit helps academic institutions expand their recruitment efforts beyond the local community by providing researchers with a platform that they can use to build a data collection app and push it to Apple’s customer base of nearly 700 million people. The Research Kit API provides developers with a wealth of data points that they can then utilize to collect data in support of the study being conducted. As always, Apple users have complete control over what data will be shared, and what data will be kept private. Thus far, five health systems have developed apps in support of ongoing research efforts using the Research Kit framework.

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The University of Rochester is fielding an app designed to evaluate Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The app measures gait, variations in voice, and changes to dexterity. Research Kit uses the iPhone accelerometer to evaluate gait, uses the microphone to capture variations in the voice, and walks users through a simple on-screen dexterity test that asks them to tap two dots on the screen as fast as they can. With this information, Rochester researchers hope to build a screening tool that can help risk-stratify populations and improve early Parkinson’s detection rates.

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Dana Farber Cancer Institute, working with the UCLA School of Public Health and Penn Medicine, unveiled an app designed to support breast cancer research. Massachusetts General Hospital is fielding an app for diabetes research that will integrate with glucometers and aggregate that data with other sensor-based data captured by Research Kit. Mount Sinai Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College have deployed an app that, like Propeller Health, is attempting to capture asthma geo-location data to uncover population-level triggers. Stanford and the University of Oxford are building an app to support cardiovascular disease research.

Research Kit will be generally available next month, but the initial five apps referenced above will go live on the app store immediately. Apple has confirmed that, unlike all of its other APIs, Research Kit is an open-source project that it expects will grow over time to meet the needs of the medical community and research subjects. Apple also confirmed that it does not have access to any of the data being exchanged over the Research Kit framework.


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