Bioethics Blogs

ResearchKit and the Changing Face of Human Subjects Protections

By Avery Avrakotos, education and policy manager

ResearchKit, an open-source software framework aimed at furthering our understanding of health and disease, provides researchers a tool to conduct research utilizing Apple’s iPhone that developers hope will help revolutionize how that research is conducted.

First introduced at an industry event in March, ResearchKit consists of three modules: the first focuses on providing potential subjects with information about participation and obtaining subject consent; the second administers surveys using a pre-built user interface; and the third allows researchers to invite subjects to perform tasks utilizing the iPhone’s advanced sensors, including the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, and GPS. With its wider release, researchers and developers can now access these modules, which can be customized, and work toward the development of new modules.

ResearchKit is also integrated with the iPhone’s HealthKit. Apple explained in a March 2015 press release: “When granted permission by the user, apps can access data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps.”

At the time of ResearchKit’s unveiling, five applications (“apps”) utilizing the framework were made available: mPower, GlucoSuccess, MyHeart Counts, Share the Journey, and Asthma Health. Through these apps, iPhone users can participate in minimal-risk, IRB-approved research related to Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and asthma, respectively. Since Apple’s announcement last month, recruitment across the five apps has exceeded expectations: more than 60,000 subjects have enrolled, highlighting the enormous potential ResearchKit holds for subject recruitment.

Using traditional research models, it can be difficult to recruit large numbers of research subjects.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.