Apple Inc. recently released a new software tool called ResearchKit, which is an open-source platform researchers can use to design apps that use the iPhone's sensors and information from wearable devices to gather data on user health. If you have an iPhone, you can enroll in a study about diabetes simply by downloading an app. ResearchKit depends on the HealthKit features of the iPhone, which have great potential for tracking health behavior in iPhone users who choose to use them. Researchers hope this new software will allow them to gather sample sizes much bigger than those they've had access to in the past, leading to better diabetes research and hopefully some new conclusions about the condition. One of the obstacles researchers face is recruiting study participants - and being able to do so from afar means there is a potential for greater sample sizes and cost savings on research overall.

How do the studies work?

Signing up for one of the diabetes research studies through ResearchKit is an interesting experience. For example, in GlucoSuccess, an app from Massachusetts General Hospital, you would have access to information about how your recorded diet and exercise habits are affecting your glucose readings each day, according to Reuters. You may input some of your information into your phone manually, and other data could come from the phone's sensors or from a wearable device like a Fitbit. The app also asks users whether they have complied with their diabetes medications, dosages, and inspected their feet each day. In this way, the app not only gives researchers data, but can also prompt users to engage in better diabetes self-management.

"It's very hard in practice for people to carry out all the recommendations and stick with them over time," Dr. Stanley Shaw, co-director of the Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health at Massachusetts General, told Reuters.

For this reason, the researchers devised an app that will not only give them data but will help study participants enhance their own diabetes care.

All of these studies operate on an opt-in basis, and researchers obtain informed consent from participants. Furthermore, the data from the apps goes directly to researchers - and Apple never has access to it.

For more on diabetes and technology:

Next Generations of Diabetes Wearables
Predict Your Blood Sugar 30 Minutes in Advance
Technology to Help Diabetes Control: Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGM)