New ResearchKit module allows genetic data to be incorporated into studies

At today’s “Let Us Loop You In” event, Apple announced advancements to its open source ResearchKit framework that bring genetic data and a series of medical tests typically conducted in an exam room to iPhone apps. Medical researchers are adopting these new features to design targeted studies for diseases and conditions that affect billions of people around the world and to gather more specific types of data from participants, according to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.

ResearchKit turns iPhone into a tool for medical research by helping doctors, scientists and other researchers gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants anywhere in the world using iPhone apps. Participants enrolled in these app-based studies can review an interactive informed consent process, easily complete active tasks or submit survey responses, and choose how their health data is shared with researchers, making contributions to medical research easier than ever.

By delivering ResearchKit as open source, any developer can quickly design a research study for iPhone, says Williams. They can also build on the available software code and contribute their tasks back to the community to help other researchers do more with the framework. Using a new module just released to the open source community, researchers can now incorporate genetic data into their studies in a seamless, simple and low cost way. 

Designed by 23andMe, the module allows study participants to contribute their genetic data to medical research. Researchers are also working with the National Institute of Mental Health to deliver “spit kits” to study participants based on a series of survey results. Williams says that ResearchKit studies incorporating genetic data are:

Postpartum Depression: PPD Act is a new app-based study that will use genetic testing to better understand why some women are impacted by postpartum depression by examining the genetic makeup of those with the condition. Led by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the international Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment Consortium, PPD Act will offer study participants access to a “spit kit” from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Cardiovascular Disease: Developed by Stanford Medicine, the MyHeart Counts app will use genetic data from existing 23andMe customers to help determine predisposition to heart conditions and measure how a participant’s activity and lifestyle relate to cardiovascular health. By studying these relationships on a broad scale, researchers hope to be able to better understand how to keep hearts healthy.

Asthma: The Asthma Health app, designed to track symptom patterns in an individual and identify potential triggers for these symptoms, will use genetic data from 23andMe customers to help researchers better understand ways to personalize asthma treatment. Asthma Health is designed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and LifeMap Solutions.

ResearchKit studies continue to expand internationally and are available in Australia, Austria, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the US. ResearchKit apps are available on the Apple Store for iPhone 5 and later, and the latest generation of iPod touch.