Apple announced ResearchKit at its Spring Forward event on Monday, allowing iPhone users to participate in clinical trials and disease research.
The new toolkit is aimed at helping researchers expand their sample pool, tackling the problem of lack of volunteers that many medical researchers face.
"One of the biggest researchers have is recruiting. They often have to pay people to participate, which doesn't give the best cross-section of the population. But the bigger issue is small sample sizes, sometimes 50 to 100 people," said Jeff Williams, Apple's senior VP of operations.
ResearchKit comes after the Health app and HealthKit were launched last year, allowing iPhones to collect data on users' health and aspects of their fitness. For ResearchKit, however, Apple is partnering with experts from the likes of Stanford and Oxford. It is even partnering with universities in China to develop new applications and frameworks.
The first five ResearchKit applications will target a number of specific diseases, including Parkinson's, diabetes, asthma, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Users can sign up to help with the studies through these apps, after which they will have to complete a number of certain tasks. In the app for Parkinson's disease, for example, users can repeatedly tap two points on the display to test magnitude of tremors. They can also say "aahh" into the iPhone microphone, which is able to pick up on small inflections in the voice that could point to Parkinson's. Overall, the new toolkit will greatly help doctors in their research, providing them with much more reliable research than ever before.
An important thing to note is the privacy aspect. Handing over this type of information to Apple would certainly be cause for concern, but Williams made sure to stress that Apple would not see user data from ResearchKit. Instead, the user is able to control who gets to see the data. And, users can see what data they're sharing with researchers.
Other data that could be useful is likely to include that collected by the Apple Watch. For example, the Apple Watch can track things like heart rate and activity during the day, which could help researchers with data collection. Of course, a user will need to opt in to a study in order to have their data used by researchers.
The move is certainly an interesting one for Apple, and is likely to be of great help to researchers. With the company having shipped its 700 millionth iPhone this year, it is certainly in a position to effectively change disease research forever.
The first five apps will be available Tuesday, March 10, and the platform will be available in April.
Photo Credit: Apple