Apple’s ResearchKit has received a major boost from two major players in the academic medical community.
The Yale School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai are the latest to step up their use of the mobile software platform—which is designed to help collect data for medical research—announcing, respectively, a new heart condition study and the refinement of an asthma app.
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine are developing an app that runs through ResearchKit and turns the iPhone into a research tool to compile self assessments from patients with cardiomyopathies—diseases that limit the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood through the body.
Called the Yale Cardiomyopathy Index, the app enables patients to record information about their life, and heart-related symptoms, plus provide feedback through iPhones to their physicians about their physical function and heart rate trends in real time. They also have an option to perform six-minute walk tests that analyze their physical abilities and heart rate trends.
Part of the yearlong clinical study, which is open to anyone between the ages of 2 and 80, involves questionnaires to see how cardiomyopathy affects different age groups, with parents completing answers for the youngest group of children. An education part of the app includes resources enabling participants to understand cardiomyopathies.
A typical question is: “Do you feel your heart is beating really fast when you are NOT active—such as when you are studying, listening to music or hanging out?” The four answer choices are “no,” “once or twice a month,” “once or twice a week” or “most days.”
“We’re excited about this because, with ResearchKit, we are able to reach out to a large number of interested families and patients around the country,” said E. Kevin Hall, M.D., one of the Yale School of Medicine’s research developers of the app. He is an assistant professor of cardiology and director of the Pediatric Heart Failure Program.
“It helps us learn how to improve patients’ quality of life and provides a better understanding of how heart issues affect kids and young adults,” Hall added, as the smartphone has sensors that could help in studies looking at a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory. “We see ResearchKit as a shovel, where you can use it for many things. Its power is the ability to access large numbers of patients and be able to collect and communicate the data. For us, this is a significant change in how research can be done.”
The Cardiomyopathy Index follows an earlier heart health study program from Stanford University School of Medicine, which last March launched a free smartphone app called MyHeart Counts. Its purpose is to enable users to help advance their understanding of the health of the human heart by collecting data about physical activity and cardiac risk factors. In the future, the app will be utilized to study various methods for using smartphones and other wearable devices to enhance heart-healthy habits, according to Stanford University.
At the New York-based Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, LifeMap Solutions has been developing the Asthma Health app, which uses ResearchKit to make it possible for asthma sufferers to participate in research studies via their iPhones. Along with Weill Cornell Medical College, the research project seeks to track individuals’ asthma symptom patterns and potential triggers to improve existing treatments.
So far, more than 8,600 research participants have been using the Asthma Health app without direct in-person contact. It also is one of the first five apps to launch on ResearchKit since the medical research platform was officially launched about six months ago.
“When we began our partnership with Mount Sinai and Icahn, we saw opportunities to create new mobile health apps that enable individuals with asthma to participate in a large-scale medical research study using their iPhones,” said Corey Bridges, CEO of LifeMap Solutions, a digital-health subsidiary of BioTime, which collaborated with Mount Sinai to develop the free Asthma Health app, starting at the request of Apple shortly before HealthKit’s official release.
The app is a personalized tool that helps individuals gain greater insight into their asthma, avoid triggers and adhere to treatment plans. Having gathered six months’ worth of data and feedback, LifeMap expanded its capability by enabling the sharing of data gathered with the app by physicians and including a “Doctor Dashboard” to display data on a patient’s asthma condition, symptom control and activity to their physician healthcare provider.
“We also found that many participants were showing their health data, from the Asthma Health app to their physicians to start anecdotal conversations,” said Bridges. “So we worked closely with Mount Sinai to create the dashboard where the patient just presses a button in the app and hands their iPhone to the doctor to provide a quick sense of the patient’s asthma symptom control and activity. To have initial findings in just six months and an impact on people’s health, and then adjust it to put in additional functionality, is certainly exciting.”
The rich trove of data from thousands of participants also has led to interesting clinical outcomes, according to Yu-Feng Yvonne Chan, M.D., Ph.D., director of digital health and personalized medicine at the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai.
“Further, many of our study participants wrote to inform us that the app was serving as more than a research tool, or an educational tool, but was actually helping them better understand and manage their condition and feel better overall,” Chan said in a prepared statement. “This potential impact of our research study on the participants has inspired our team to introduce new features and enhancements to the Asthma Health app.”
Ronald Rosenberg is a former business and science reporter for The Boston Globe. He has written features for New Scientist and Inc. magazine. His lengthy journalism career includes editing an award-winning weekly newspaper in Cornwall, N.Y. Ron also was a media relations specialist for the science faculty at Boston University, and a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This article was reprinted from Volume 19, Issue 40, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »