Apple opens ResearchKit platform to healthcare professionals

Apple says the software framework will help medical experts analyze health, wellness and better understand modern-day diseases.

Roy Zipstein | Apple

Apple has opened up the ResearchKit platform for medical and health-based research and data analysis.

The iPad and iPhone maker announced the opening of the software framework to developers and medical professionals on Tuesday. The first research apps developed which use the framework study asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson's disease -- but as researchers now have open access, this is likely to expand beyond these medical problems.

According to Apple, over 60,000 iPhone users enrolled in the voluntary data collection exercise within a few weeks of the applications being released. Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of Operations commented:

"We are delighted and encouraged by the response to ResearchKit from the medical and research community and the participants contributing to medical research. Studies that historically attracted a few hundred participants are now attracting participants in the tens of thousands.

Medical researchers all over the world are actively exploring how ResearchKit can help them study even more diseases, and we believe the impact on global understanding of health and wellness will be profound."

Starting today, researchers and developers can use ResearchKit to develop their own health and wellness-related apps, and developers can also contribute to the system by creating new research modules.

Apple calls ResearchKit a "powerful tool for medical research." When granted consent by a smartphone user, applications based on the software framework are given permission to access data from a modern iPhone's sensors -- which includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone and GPS technology -- in order to collect data on user activity levels, motor functions and memory, among others.

In addition, if granted consent, ResearchKit is able to communicate with Apple's HealthKit health-tracking software, introduced in iOS 8, to glean data such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use.

ResearchKit includes frameworks and templates for user consent to studies and data collection, surveys and "active tasks," which invite users to perform activities in order to collect data on factors including fitness and cognitive function.

ResearchKit is currently available in the US App Store, but the tech giant plans to roll out the framework to more countries in the future. At the moment the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and latest generation of iPod Touch gadgets support ResearchKit apps.

In related news, IBM said on Tuesday the company was forming a new unit, Watson Health, which will focus on healthcare data analysis and turning bulk health-related data into valuable data for the enterprise. As part of the formation of the new, independent unit, Big Blue said Watson Health will provide an open platform for healthcare professionals to gain insight into data collected by consenting mobile device users.

Apple is one of several companies which has agreed to extend its partnership with IBM into the healthcare realm. Under the terms of the new deal, health data collected by users of Apple's iPad and iPhone apps, Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit will be merged with the IBM Watson Health Cloud.

Read on: In the world of innovation

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