New ResearchKit studies for autism, epilepsy and melanoma unveiled

ResearchKit example screen

Apple announced new ResearchKit studies on autism, epilepsy and melanoma. The mobile platform is designed to turn iPhone (and Apple Watch) into a medical research tool by helping doctors, scientists and other researchers gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants.

“In just six months, ResearchKit apps studying everything from asthma and diabetes to Parkinson’s disease, are already providing insights to scientists around the world and more than 100,000 participants are choosing to contribute their data to advance science and medical research,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations.

New ResearchKit studies announced include:

Duke University and Duke Medicine are launching “Autism & Beyond” for parents with concerns about autism, anxiety and other developmental issues. The Duke research team will be using well-established screening questionnaires along with iPhone’s front-facing camera to detect signs of developmental issues at a much younger age. The app will rely on novel emotion detection algorithms to measure a child’s reaction to videos shown on iPhone. Duke is partnering with Peking University in China and other international partners to conduct the study.

In just six months, more than 50 researchers have contributed active tasks to support new methods of research.Developed by Johns Hopkins, the EpiWatch app is the first study of its kind to be conducted with Apple Watch using ResearchKit. The study will test whether the sensors included in Apple’s wearable device can be used to detect the onset and duration of seizures. During the first phase of this study, researchers will use a custom complication on the Apple Watch to provide patients with one-touch access to capture accelerometer and heart rate sensor data, and send information about the digital signature of their seizure to a loved one. The app will keep a log of all seizures and the participant’s responsiveness during the event. The app also helps participants manage their disorder by tracking their medication adherence and by screening for side effects, while allowing participants to compare their condition with others in the research study.

Oregon Health & Science University is studying whether photos taken on an iPhone can be used to learn about mole growth and melanoma risks. Research participants will be able to document mole changes and share them directly with health professionals, allowing researchers to capture images from tens of thousands of iPhone users around the globe to help create detection algorithms which can be used in future studies to potentially screen for melanoma.

In the other ResearchKit news, Apple noted developers’ willingness to contribute to the platform with new modules, active tasks and custom surveys. The Active Task module enables researchers to gather more targeted data for their study by inviting participants to perform activities that generate data using iPhone’s advanced sensors. Initial Active Task modules included tasks to measure motor activities, fitness, cognition and voice.

In just six months, more than 50 researchers have contributed active tasks to support new methods of research, including tasks to study tone audiometry for hearing loss; the ability to measure reaction time through delivery of a known stimulus to a known response; a timed walk test; PSAT to assess the speed of information processing and working memory, and the mathematical puzzle Tower of Hanoi often used for cognition studies. Additional contributions to the ResearchKit framework include iPad support, image capture and the ability to add pie charts, line graphs and discrete graphs for more detailed dashboards.