What is ResearchKit?

ResearchKit is an open-source software kit designed specifically for medical and health research; it simplifies the creation of iPhone apps that can help physicians and scientists gather data from willing participants. The framework allows researchers to circumvent the development of custom code for common tasks such as sharing, storage, and syncing of research data. It helps to create apps to recruit human subjects in research, present informed-consent materials, create surveys and tasks, and monitor sensors interoperable with smartphone technology. ResearchKit works seamlessly with Apple HealthKit, a suite of applications that can interact with the iPhone accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, GPS sensors, and external hardware such as glucometers, inhalers, and other existing and newly developed sensors. These capabilities could help monitor a participant’s gait, motor impairment, physical fitness, speech, and memory, to name just a few. Additional hardware extensions (add-apters) are frequently developed and available.

It is important to note that the ResearchKit framework does not include a data management solution. The framework can be used with a data management solution only after IRB approval of the human health study with consideration of the provider’s data privacy and security practices. Apple’s ResearchKit debuted in March 2015 with five opt-in health research apps, now available for free public download.

Apple’s ResearchKit debuted in March 2015 with five opt-in health research apps, now available for free public download, created by the teams of researchers and developers from Sage Bionetworks, Stanford, Oxford, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Penn Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and others. In the three months after Research Kit’s debut, more than 70,000 participants volunteered to use their smartphones to share personal health data that could improve medical research in diabetes, asthma, breast cancer, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular diseases. NIDA’s choice of iPhone as the platform does not reflect any endorsement of Apple Inc. and Apple’s products in the Challenge, rather, it is a response to Apple’s release of a set of tools specifically intended for use in health research.

Features and modules currently accessible and compatible with Apple’s ResearchKit

Apple’s iPhones have a number of built-in sensors, including Touch ID, Barometer, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity Sensor, and Ambient Light Sensor. The Touch ID is a biometric technology that provides user identification through a finger scanner, the Barometer measures atmospheric pressure, the Accelerometer measure the tilting motion and orientation of the iPhone, and the Three-Axis Gyroscope enables 3-axis angular acceleration around the X, Y and Z axes, enabling precise calculation of yaw, pitch, and roll. The Proximity Sensor deactivates the display and touchscreen when the phone is brought near the face during a call and the Ambient Light Sensor adjusts the display brightness. All sensors are available for the iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5S and iPhone 5. The only exceptions are the Barometer sensor, which is only available for the iPhone 6 Plus, and iPhone 6, and the Touch ID sensor, which is only available for the iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, and iPhone 5S.

In addition to internal sensors, there are a number of add-apters which work with existing iPhones. The add-apters can measure pulse rate, breathing pattern, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, heart rate variability, galvanic skin response, and glucose concentration, and can even help detect ear infections and track inhaler medication use. Some add-adapters can be directly purchased through iTunes or third-party vendors; others must be purchased through a physician. Based on the type of adapter, prices can vary from $6 to $249.

For more information about Apple’s ResearchKit and the developed apps visit https://www.apple.com/researchkit/.

For official challenge information, please see the Federal Register Notice.