The iPhone is being used to study rheumatoid arthritis

Bringing on the big guns.
Bringing on the big guns.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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Since its launch in March 2015, many have believed Apple’s ResearchKit could revolutionize medical research.

So far, universities and hospitals have dabbled with the open source software framework, which was designed to help doctors and scientists gather data from participants using iPhone apps. Now, global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is coming on board to run a rheumatoid arthritis study, marking the first time ResearchKit has been used in clinical research.

GlaxoSmithKline’s app PARADE—short for Patient Rheumatoid Arthritis Data from the Real World—will get users to do a wrist exercise that iPhone sensors will detect to collect and track common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: joint pain, fatigue, and mood. It will track activity and quality of life measures for 300 patients over a three-month period.

The software has shown plenty of promise already. A Stanford University study garnered 11,000 participants within 24 hours—a feat that can take up to a year. The app has allowed researchers to do work in a wide variety of areas, from Parkinson’s Disease to concussion to postpartum depression. This year, Apple expanded ResearchKit by launching CareKit, which allows users to view their own data and gauge their response to care.

One of the benefits of the app, cited by GSK, is that patients do not have to travel to and wait in clinics. Apple says participants can complete tasks within the app, so researchers have to spend less time sorting paperwork. Currently, GSK is using the health system for the iPhone to conduct clinical trials only, not medicine testing.

Although the app will likely lower costs for the drug giant, subjects may ”tire of entering information into the app, and, given the iPhone’s $399 starting price, the sample may be skewed toward wealthier demographics,” Bloomberg reported. Rob DiCicco, head of Glaxo’s clinical innovation and digital platforms group, recognized the potential shortcomings, but also pointed out that traditional clinical trial model too have loopholes, such as patients forgetting appointments.