'Siri, how's the research going?' Apple launches new app to study health

A wrist with an Apple Watch
Apple will use its new Research app on the Apple Watch to crowdsource health data from consumers for research studies. (Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock)
Continuing its push into healthcare, Apple is launching three medical studies to evaluate the capabilities of its Apple Watch to monitor hearing, women's health and heart rate and mobility.
 
The studies will be available on a new Research app for the Apple Watch, Apple executives announced on Tuesday during an event at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. They were also unveiling hardware updates for the iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV.
 
 The Apple Watch received FDA clearance last year for its electrocardiogram feature, officially classifying it as a medical device capable of alerting its user to abnormal heart rhythms.

“With the Apple Heart Study, we found that we could positively impact medical research in ways that help patients today and that make contributions that will benefit future generations,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement carries our commitment to health even further by engaging with participants on a larger scale than ever before.”

RELATED: Apple Watch can detect irregular heart rate, but more research needed—Stanford study

screenshot of Apple's Research app for the Apple Watch
Apple's new research app. (Apple)

A University of California San Francisco study assessing the Apple Watch’s ability to predict irregular heartbeats poured some cold water on the capabilities of the technology. The study found that the Apple Watch paired with an algorithm designed to detect atrial fibrillation performed well among sedentary patients undergoing a medical procedure. But among an ambulatory group of more than 1,600 participants, the watch and algorithm were just 68% accurate.

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Apple executives announced this week that researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences will work with Apple on a long-term study focused on menstrual cycles and gynecological conditions. The study will inform screening and risk assessment of conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy, and menopausal transition.

"Women make up half of the world’s population, yet even today there has been limited investment in studying their unique health needs,” Michelle A. Williams, a reproductive epidemiologist and dean of the faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School, said in a statement. “This study, unprecedented in scope, will greatly advance our understanding of the biological and social determinants of women’s health and lead to better health outcomes.”

RELATED: Stanford kicks off Apple Heart Study to screen and virtually triage patients with irregular heartbeats

For the heart and movement study, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association will research how heart rate and mobility signals—like walking pace and flights of stairs climbed—relate to hospitalizations, falls, heart health and quality of life in order to promote healthy movement and improved cardiovascular health.

Calum MacRae, the vice chair of Scientific Innovation for the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School said the study could help to identify the features of complex human physiology that lead to different outcomes in wellness or chronic disease. This information could be used to improve patients' health, MacRae said.

The University of Michigan will work with Apple to examine factors that impact hearing health. The tech company says the study is the first of its kind to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The study data will also be shared with the World Health Organization as a contribution toward its Make Listening Safe initiative.

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