Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai launched a new mobile precision wellness iPhone app, called N1, that serves as a medical science tool for individuals to compare the effectiveness of wellness-related treatments for different people. For instance, some respond very well to acetaminophen, while others feel no benefit. Trying to find the most effective treatment for yourself through trial and error can be challenging.
The app’s name is derived from what scientists call an “n-of-1” trial, in which individuals compare the effects of different treatments on themselves. The concept isn’t new, but n-of-1 trials haven’t been widely adopted because designing these kinds of studies from scratch can be expensive and require specialized expertise. The N1 app simplifies the process by defining the parameters of the experiment-outlining what treatments to try, when to take them, and what outcomes to measure. It then uses sophisticated statistics to analyze the data that users collect and generates individualized results summarizing the comparative effectiveness of the treatments.
“Through the use of technology, we are able to make these tools available to a much broader audience,” said Jason Bobe, MSc, Associate Professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Director of Democratized Health Innovation at INGH, and Principal Investigator of the study. “The hope is the app will enable many more people to adopt the n-of-1 approach.”
Users must agree to share their data from the app — deidentified, in most cases — with Mount Sinai researchers, but can choose whether or not to share de-identified data with scientists outside Mount Sinai.
Now freely available in the Apple iOS store (but not yet available on Android), the app is launching with a specific experiment: the “coffee vs. tea challenge.” The goal of this study is to determine whether users get a better brain boost from caffeine or caffeine plus L-theanine, a naturally occurring compound found in green tea. Each morning, the app will instruct users to take caffeine or caffeine + L-theanine, from coffee, tea, or over-the-counter supplements. It will then deliver a series of brain teasers to assess creative thinking, processing speed, and visual attention.
The plan is to roll out additional experiments designed to demonstrate how to use medical science to address common wellness-related issues, such as sleep problems or chronic pain. Some of these will take advantage of data from wearable devices and smartphone apps that many people already use for self-tracking. Eventually, the team hopes to adapt the platform so users will be able to design their own experiments. N-of-1 experiments may also provide individuals a way to assess the benefits of the myriad wellness products on the market, such as supplements or apps that claim to improve sleep or memory.
Though the N1 app will initially focus on wellness, these methods and tools may one day be more regularly used in clinical contexts.