NIH launches program supporting mHealth research

The National Institutes of Health's Fogarty International Center has launched a new program to encourage development of mobile technology and research into how it can be used to improve health, especially in low-resource countries.

As part of the program, NIH is encouraging applications for research projects that "focus on the adaptation, optimization and evaluation of mHealth tools or interventions to prevent, diagnose, manage and treat chronic diseases." The new initiative, Mobile Health: Technology and Outcomes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), aims to research possible new mHealth tools or interventions either for chronic diseases or for an array of other health issues.

"The mHealth technology being developed or adapted should address a well-defined LMIC need and should be appropriate for use in that setting," the announcement reads. "Fogarty's program, by focusing on the problems and constraints in LMIC environments, should help produce more effective mHealth interventions and tools and, ultimately, encourage more involvement of LMIC business, hospitals or governments."

Applicants may request up to $125,000 direct costs per year for up to two years. The first deadline for applications is February 19, 2014. Applicants are required to propose partnerships between at least one U.S. institution and one LMIC institution. According to NIH, program directors/principal investigators may be employed in either a U.S. or LMIC institution, but should plan to build capacity in mHealth research in the LMIC institution.

Fogarty's partners for the program include the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Mental Health and Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. 

"The program aims to contribute to the evidence base for the use of mobile technology to improve clinical outcomes and public health while building research capacity in LMICs and establishing research networks in this area," states the NIH website. "In the context of this program, mHealth includes the use of mobile and wireless devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.) to improve health outcomes, health care services and health research. The mHealth technology that is developed or adapted in proposed projects can include external hardware and/or software components for mobile or wireless devices."

Last month, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., wrote a blog arguing that a wireless adhesive patch designed to monitor the heart's rhythms could replace traditional technology. Collins discussed the results of a clinical trial in which NIH-funded researchers from the Scripps Translational Science Institute, in La Jolla, Calif., compared the arrhythmia-detecting abilities of the Holter monitor with that of the new Zio Patch, an FDA-cleared wireless adhesive device made by San Francisco-based iRhythm Technologies.

"Pretty amazing stuff, but it will take a lot more than sheer ingenuity to move these devices from the inventor's bench into the real-world settings," wrote Collins. "...A new health gadget may sound cool, but you'd want to know that it's been shown to produce better health outcomes before you invest your money (and maybe even your life) in it."

To learn more:
- read the announcement