ResearchKit turns every iPhone into a medical crowdsourcing tool

ResearchKit turns every iPhone into a medical crowdsourcing tool

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ResearchKit could transform the way we gather large scale clinical datasets. Photo: Apple
ResearchKit could transform the way we gather large scale clinical datasets. Photo: Apple

Aside from the gorgeous new 12-inch MacBook Air, the part of today’s Apple keynote that excited me the most was the announcement of what Apple is calling ResearchKit, a new open-source iOS software framework designed to crowdsource volunteers for medical research studies.

Using the tool, researchers can tap into Apple’s massive iPhone user base to recruit people for medical data-gathering. Users sign up with a digital signature, and can then instantly begin recording data.

Apple wants to help researchers cure diseases like Parkinson's. Photo: Apple
Apple wants to help researchers cure diseases like Parkinson’s. Photo: Apple

While ResearchKit’s scope will definitely increase over time, for now it will focus on five diseases: Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes. Apple is working with top research institutes from around the world on this initiative, including the University Of Oxford and Stanford.

ResearchKit represents a Google-like dive into the power of Big Data for Apple, since this crowdsourced approach to medicine will help overcome perennial problems for scientists such as small sample sizes for data sets and inconsistent data collection. In keeping with its focus on user privacy, users will decide how they want to share their data, while Apple will see none of it.

ResearchKit itself won’t be available until next month, although the five apps described in today’s keynotes are available from today.

Given how successful and widely-adopted iOS 8’s HealthKit has been in top hospitals, ResearchKit has the potential to be enormously significant — not just for Apple but medical practitioners and, in turn, users.