ResearchKit a new app helps autism researchers

Cupertino, CA – Apple recently released a new tool that allows researchers and scientists to gather data from study participants anywhere their smartphones are. One of the major problems of autism research is that not enough people on the spectrum participate in studies. This tool, called ResearchKit, aims to change that by allowing autism researchers to craft studies using pre-made templets. Researchers can also use all of the iPhones features such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, cameras and microphones.

Jim Tanaka, professor of psychology at the University of Victoria in Canada told autism news outlet SFARI that:

“If you can do testing and treatment on your iPhone, you’ve taken away a lot of the obstacles that might prevent somebody from participating in research.”

This means that studies made with this tool will automatically have a better chance at getting more participants, and better results.

Other apps created with this tool have debuted to great success. A cardiovascular app called MyHeart had 11,00 users within 24-hours of it’s release. The first app created with Research kit had 60,000.

Another great plus is that the surveys and studies created with this tool can measure repetitive behaviors, and correct problems usually found in self-reporting, something humans are naturally flawed at.

But with the great pluses come the great minuses. Since the apps made with ResearchKit could be downloaded by literally anyone, there may be data from people who may not actually be autistic. Some suggest in-person screening before getting access to the app.

Another problem is ethics. All studies have to have signed consent forms from participants stating that they understand the study and its purposes. Studies conducted in person gives parents and participants the chance to ask questions. App makers plan to combat this problem by putting the forms in the app itself to be electronically signed, and making users take a in-app quiz afterword to ensure they completely understand.

Then there is the data itself. Apple will not have access, but researchers will be left with the task of scrubbing away all personal data, which can be hard.

Technology and Innovation Laboratory at Yale University Fred Shic told SFARI that:

“The data might show that they spend a lot of time at a particular address, so you know where this person likely lives, and you could look at public records and find out who that person likely is.”

But while ResearchKit has a way to go before it’s perfect, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Contributed by Audrey L. Hollingshead.

SourceNicholette Zeliadt on the SFARI news website: Autism researchers eager to use Apple’s ResearchKit