Apple releases open source code for ResearchKit apps

Apple has released its ResearchKit open source software framework to the international medical research community, including the source code for four of the apps already developed through the platform.

Apple announced last month that it had developed ResearchKit to allow researchers to easily develop apps that can harness the ubiquity of the iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices for medical research.

The idea is to allow researchers to more easily design and carry out larger scale, cheaper population health studies, and for the public to more easily take part. Apple said today that over 60,000 iPhone users have enrolled in the five research studies that apps have been developed for in the first few weeks of them being available.

Apple has worked with a number of research institutions, hospitals and third-party app and device manufacturers on the apps. They include a diabetes app called GlucoSuccess, one for asthma called Asthma Health, mPower for Parkinson's disease and Share the Journey for breast cancer survivors.

These apps are all designed to be used in research studies, not as standalone health apps for consumer use.

Apple says that from today, medical researchers all over the world will be able to use ResearchKit to develop their own apps, and developers can also contribute new research modules to the open source framework.

Apple's senior vice president of operations, Jeff Williams, said the company was 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,” Mr Williams said in a statement. “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.”

The open source framework allows any medical researcher to use the customisable modules in ResearchKit, which include the most common elements need for studies: participant consent, surveys and active tasks.

For participant consent, researchers can use an e-consult template that can be customised to explain the details of the study and obtain the participant's signature.

There is also a survey module that provides a pre-built user interface that makes it easy to customise questions and answers for study participants to complete and immediately share with researchers.

And there is an 'Active Task' module that enables researchers to gather more targeted data for their study by inviting participants to perform activities that generate data using the iPhone’s in-built sensors.

When granted permission by the participant, ResearchKit apps can access data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone and GPS to gain insight into the person's activity levels, motor impairments and memory. Initial Active Task modules include tasks to measure motor activities, fitness, cognition and voice.

The core framework comes with Swift and Objective-C examples, and full conceptual and API documentation. It has also been localised to many languages.

ResearchKit promises to work seamlessly with HealthKit, a software framework Apple introduced with iOS 8 for developers that will allow health and fitness apps to communicate with each other.

With permission from the participant, ResearchKit apps can access and use data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps.

For details on how to access the open source framework, see www.researchkit.org.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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