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New App for Medical Research, Studies Revealed

Apple vice-president Sumbul Desai describes medical research studies planned for Apple’s new research app, 10 Sept. 2019. (Apple Inc.)

11 Sept. 2019. Apple Inc. plans to release a new medical research app and announced a series of studies for its use in women’s health, hearing, and heart health. The company unveiled the app and studies as part of its product announcements yesterday in Cupertino, California.

The new research app, made for the iPhone and Apple Watch, will allow users to join in studies designed for the app. The company plans to release the software later this year for download in the U.S., and through its Apple stores.

Apple also announced three research projects that take advantage of the app. The company is collaborating with Harvard University’s school of public health and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of National Institutes of Health, on a long-term study of menstrual cycles and gynecological conditions. Researchers expect to collect data with the app on issues including pregnancy, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, menopausal transition, and osteoporosis.

The team plans to focus on the relationship between menstruation – treating it as a vital sign similar to blood pressure and pulse rate —  and women’s overall health outcomes. “Women make up half of the world’s population, yet even today there has been limited investment in studying their unique health needs,” says Michelle Williams, a reproductive epidemiologist at Harvard’s school of public health in a joint statement, adding that the study, “will greatly advance our understanding of the biological and social determinants of women’s health, and lead to better health outcomes.”

A University of Michigan team in Ann Arbor is using the research app to collect data on noise exposure and hearing problems. Participants in the study will collect data over time on their exposure to environmental sounds and its impact on hearing. Up to now, researchers lacked the technology to routinely measure exposure to everyday sounds.

“This unique data set will allow us to create something the United States has never had, national-level estimates of exposures to music and environmental sound,” says Rick Neitzel, professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at Michigan in a university statement. ” And Neitzel notes, “We’ve never had a good tool to measure these exposures. It’s largely been guesswork, so to take that guesswork out of the equation is a huge step forward.”

A third research project uses the app to gauge the relationship between mobility and overall heart health. Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is joining American Heart Association and Apple to measure indicators of physical activity such as walking pace and stair climbing, and discover associations with heart health, hospitalizations, and general quality of life.

Apple is no stranger to health care and medical research. The company offers software development kits for apps to capture data on health-related conditions. Those kits are now used for data collection in studies of Parkinson’s disease, autism, and epilepsy. In addition, Apple is sponsoring the Apple Heart Study, a collaboration with Stanford University to use the Apple Watch to detect atrial fibrillation. As reported by Science & Enterprise in November 2018, the study is recruiting 400,000 participants to screen for signs of irregular heart rhythms.

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