Apple's new Research app launches with three large medical studies
One of the more interesting details to come out of Apple’s latest big announcement event was the launch of a new app designed to let individuals share health tracking data with researchers in an unprecedented way. Alongside the revelation of the new Research app, three novel medical studies were announced, offering collaborations with major research institutions across the United States.
Apple first dipped its toe into the medical research waters in 2017 with the Apple Heart Study, a collaboration with Stanford University to allow scientists to track heart data gathered by Apple’s smartwatch. The study asked interested participants to download a specialized app, designed in collaboration with Stanford researchers. Over 400,000 participants ultimately enrolled, inspiring Apple to develop a dedicated Research app for a variety of future studies.
“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,” says Apple’s chief operating officer, Jeff Williams. “Today’s announcement carries our commitment to health even further by engaging with participants on a larger scale than ever before.”
The free app will launch in the United States later this year and allow users to selectively enroll in a variety of different studies. Health data will be shared anonymously with researchers and three separate studies will be available to participate in upon launch.
The Apple Women’s Health study will be managed by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the National Institutes of Health. This study hopes to become the largest longitudinal study of women’s health ever conducted, tracking associations between menstrual cycles, gynecological health and a number of diseases specifically related to women, from polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer, to fertility issues and pregnancy complications.
“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,” says Michelle A. Williams, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School.
In partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association, the second project is the Apple Heart and Movement study. This is set to track associations between cardiovascular health and heart rate and mobility data. The goal is to look at the rate of hospitalizations and other health markers, against data tracked by Apple devices in order to better understand when preventative measures can be deployed to keep people healthy.
“We believe that emerging technology solutions that seek to provide deeper health insights offer great potential in getting us there,” says CEO of the American Heart Association, Nancy Brown. “We are collaborating with Apple and Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the Apple Heart and Movement Study to explore the correlation between a broad range of physical activities and a person’s overall heart health to ultimately understand risks and interventions to improve health.”
The final study revealed in this initial announcement is the Apple Hearing Study. This innovative study is directed by the University of Michigan and it is set to explore how noise exposure affects hearing health.
“This unique dataset will allow us to create something the United States has never had – national-level estimates of exposures to music and environmental sound,” explains Rick Neitzel, who will lead the study at the U-M School of Public Health. “Collectively, this information will help give us a clearer picture of hearing health in America and will increase our knowledge about the impacts of our daily exposures to music and noise.”
Although there may be data security concerns, based on the extraordinary response rate to Apple’s prior heart study there are hundreds of thousands of people willing to share some personal data for a good scientific cause. And, considering how increasingly sophisticated some of these health tracking devices are (only last year Apple incorporated ECG measurements into its smartwatches), the mass volumes of data that can now be gathered offers researchers groundbreaking new ways to conduct health studies.