Apple ResearchKit tapped for autism, melanoma epilepsy studies

Three U.S. universities have announced collaborative efforts to use Apple's ResearchKit framework in studying autism, melanoma and epilepsy.

Duke University and Duke Medicine are teaming up with Pekin University in China, and several other global partners, on an "Autism & Beyond" study in which researchers will examine the use of the iPhone camera for improved detection of development issues in young children.

"Autism & Beyond combines well-established screening questionnaires with a new video technology that makes it possible to analyze the emotions of children so that we may one day be able to automate the screening for conditions such as autism and anxiety," Ricky Bloomfield, director of mobile technology strategy and assistant professor in Internal Medicine & Pediatrics at Duke University, said in a statement.

Johns Hopkins is conducting the first study of its kind regarding epilepsy and an EpiWatch app it developed that will test whether wearable sensors in the Apple Watch are a viable approach for seizure detection and tracking. The team will enable patients one-touch access via the Watch to trigger the app to grab accelerometer and heart rate sensor data that can be shared with caregivers and providers. The app also is aimed at helping epileptics with medication adherence.

The melanoma study, conducted by Oregon Health & Science University, will focus on how digital images via an iPhone may be used to investigate mole growth and melanoma risks. Study participants will document mole changes and share them with researchers in an effort to develop detection algorithms.

"If we can identify melanomas earlier by creating a simple way for patients to share images of their moles we can learn more about the progression of the disease," said Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., chair of dermatology and director of the Melanoma Research Program at the Knight Cancer Institute.

ResearchKit hit big on launch, as FierceMobileHealthcare reported, as thousands of study participants were signing up for disease investigation projects within the first week. The open source framework lets iPhone users participate in medical trials and studies through health data sharing capabilities.  

In September, Yale School of Medicine announced a study effort that will use the Apple iPhone and platform to gain a deeper understanding of cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle ailment.

For more information:
- read the announcement