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The Medical Research Revolution is in Your Hands

The Medical Research Revolution is in Your Hands

Take note: 2015 marks the year when medical research was potentially changed forever - thanks to a device that 72 million Americans carry in their pocket, purse, briefcase or backpack. We’re talking about Apple’s iPhone and the company’s introduction of ResearchKit, a brilliant, economically beneficial leap forward for medical science and your everyday health. Dr. Mike was at the March launch (same time that the watch was announced; we think it’s even more exciting than that!)

Look at your iPhone. If you see an app with a beating heart, that’s the amazing, innovative toolbox we’re talking about. 

ResearchKit is a game changer: Usually it takes docs months, sometimes years -- and huge bucks -- to recruit 200 patients for a study. And pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars to find out if drug A fights infection B. Now with ResearchKit, recruitment can be done in a day (see the example below of recruitment for a Parkinson’s disease study) and a study might be done at 1/10th the former cost.

ResearchKit automates delivery of health data from volunteers to researchers by using the iPhone’s accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS sensors and other capabilities. That’s what takes the tough work out of finding -- and retaining -- study participants. It will also help solve the tantalizing mystery of “lost” data -- the daily details of study participants’ lives that often go unnoted because traditional studies may only check in on volunteers sporadically. For example, it may let researchers discover (this is just hypothetical) that walking 9,720 steps a day helps control Parkinson’s symptoms, but getting 200 steps less doesn’t have the same benefits!

Finally, doctors and researchers from around the world can remotely track the health of thousands, if not millions, of people with chronic conditions (only with their permission, of course). Less expensive, faster, and better data…WOW!

If you want to help out by joining a study, download the app from the App Store. As Apple’s website says, “You choose what studies you want to join, you are in control of what information you provide to which apps, and you can see the data you’re sharing.” That means you learn about your health in real time!

What about privacy? Apple never touches the data; it goes directly to researchers. They create the apps, set up studies and recruit volunteers. And for iPhone users who agree to join a study --more than 19,000 people have already signed up -- privacy is further protected by Apple via data encryption and cloud-based storage.

ResearchKit is just getting off the ground, but four research projects are up and running.

Better Heart Health: A collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Oxford, the MyHeartCounts app, uses surveys and tasks -- like walking as fast as you can for six minutes -- to help researchers assess how lifestyle changes affect heart disease risk. In the first 24 hours after the project was announced, 11,000 people signed up. “To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study, it would normally take a year and 50 medical centers around the country,” Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health, told Bloomberg News.

Understanding Parkinson’s Symptoms: The University of Rochester and Sage Bionetworks created the mPower app to measure links between Parkinson’s disease severity and symptoms related to dexterity, balance, memory and gait. This information could help researchers better understand how various symptoms are connected to Parkinson’s disease. Within a day of the announcement, 5,589 volunteers signed up. What’s in it for them? A better understanding of their symptoms and their health.   

Breathing Easier with Asthma and Better Blood Sugar for People with Diabetes are two other studies moving ahead thanks to ResearchKit.  We’re thrilled that this data-driven research reinforces our message that YOU can make a difference in your own health and in the health of the nation by paying attention to what you do and how it affects you. 

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