Apple Devices Become Research Tools for Autism, Epilepsy, Melanoma

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apple health devicesApple has announced that the ResearchKit program on its iPhone and Apple Watch products are becoming part of research into autism, epilepsy, and melanoma. Three different medical research institutions are exploring alternate ways to diagnose and evaluate the pertinent conditions using the devices.

Duke University and Duke Medicine are investigating whether an emotion-detection algorithm can be paired with the front-facing camera of the iPhone. By monitoring a child’s reactions to various videos, it is hoped that developmental issues like autism can be recognized at a younger age than currently possible.

Oregon Health & Science University is evaluating the potential use of the iPhone for study moles and melanoma progression. Participants in the study would be asked to submit photos of their moles and/or melanoma growths over time. The information gleaned from the photographs would then be used to create an algorithm that can potentially be used for melanoma screening.

John Hopkins is focusing on the use of the Apple Watch. Their researchers are testing an app that can get the watch’s sensors to predict or recognize the onset of a seizure. In addition to tracking data from both the watch’s accelerometer and heart sensors, the app would alert designated contacts and keep a log of seizure episodes.

The ResearchKit was released back in March and is aimed at helping researchers find study participants and collect data. The tools work by allowing the creation of apps that define study criteria and permit people to sign up and submit data.

A primary benefit of ResearchKit is that anyone with an iPhone is able to sign up as a study participant. Normally, participants are drawn from the researchers’ patients, networking efforts, or advertisements offering monetary incentives.

In most cases, it is expected that ResearchKit will only supplement, rather than replace, traditional sampling methods, due to the inherent limits of the tools. It is a balancing act between attracting more participants to a study and not being able to see them in person. Certain studies, such as those looking at complex matters like surgical follow-ups, would be impossible to perform with ResearchKit, as well.

Despite these limitations, the most recent batch of studies to employ ResearchKit show that technology can continue to offer innovative means of enhancing data collection.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Apple to Harness IPhone Data for Autism, Epilepsy and Melanoma Studies,” CTV News web site, October 16, 2015;
Jesdanun, A., “Tapping iPhones for science: How Apple’s ResearchKit works,” CTV News web site, last updated March 11, 2015;, last accessed October 16, 2015.
Lalwani, M., “Apple Introduces ResearchKit Apps for Autism, Melanoma and Epilepsy,” Engadget web site, October 15, 2015;