The Story Behind ResearchKit

Earlier this month during the Apple Watch event, Apple introduced ResearchKit, an open-source software framework that makes it easy for researchers and developers to create apps that could mean the “future of medical research”. Fusion today published a story about how Apple’s medical research platform was born (via 9to5Mac).


The whole story apparently started after Apple lured away Mike O’Reilly from Masimo. The new vice president for medical technologies at Apple approached Dr. Stephen Friend after his presentation at Stanford’s MedX conference in September 27, 2013, with the following words:

“I can’t tell you where I work, and I can’t tell you what I do, but I need to talk to you,” Friend recalls. Friend was intrigued, and agreed to meet for coffee.

In just 18 months, Apple launched a platform that could revolutionise medical studies and has the potential to transform medicine: It uses the iPhone’s hardware to give scientists unprecedented amounts of clinical data. A typical clinical study might include hundreds of thousands of subjects; ResearchKit can easily surpass that number and even reach millions of subjects – just take a look at the first reaction: roughly 11,000 volunteers have signed up for ResearchKit after just a day of availability.

“Not to be part of it would have been crazy,” Euan Ashley, one of the Stanford University investigators behind the myHeart app, which tracks cardiovascular health, told me. He and his colleges have been working on myHeart with Apple for more than a year.

Of course, there is a catch: Apple’s reputation of being a privacy-aware company heavily contributes to the success of this platform. You may not have seen the same viral adoption if this initiative had come from Facebook, Google, or Microsoft. Apple doesn’t sell your data to third parties.

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