Apple operations chief Jeff Williams says that ResearchKit — the suite of medical research tools for the iPhone that Apple launched in March — has already helped researchers make a lot of interesting discoveries.
Apple originally partnered with five different companies and research centers to create apps that study Parkinson's, diabetes, asthma, breast cancer, and heart disease.
With the assurance that Apple itself will never see their data, iPhone owners can use the apps, letting researchers collect huge amounts of data "at a fraction of the cost."
William's said on stage at Re/code's Code Conference on Wednesday that data from the Parkinson's app in particular has already surfaced some valuable insight for researchers.
The Parkinson's app, called Parkinson mPower (which stands for Mobile Parkinson Observatory for Worldwide, Evidenced-based Research), was developed by the non-profit research organization Sage Bionetworks in partnership with two University of Rochester physicians, Dorsey and Karl Kieburtz, and Aston University mathematics professor Max Little.
For example, comparing the tests of people who have Parkinson's and who use the app to the results of people who decided to join the app as part of the control group, Williams says that researchers made a startling discovery:
Amongst the people who signed up as part of the control group, some of them exhibited symptoms similar to those who have Parkinson's. This could mean several things, including — potentially — that some of the people in the "control" group may have the disease as well. Since ResearchKit isn't a legal diagnostic tool yet, these results are still very preliminary. Plus, the study was only observational, meaning the researchers have no direct control over the experiment (they can't assign some people to develop Parkinson's and others to not develop it) and simply observe the participants.
Another valuable data point comes from looking at how people's medication affects their test results. After someone with Parkinson's takes their medicine, for example, that person should ideally have an easier time completing the app's tests, which include better. For many people who use the app though, the medicine didn't change their test results.
That's incredibly useful data for patients who want to show their doctor whether or not their medication is working, Williams said. People don't usually have that concrete data — if they use the Parkinson's app, they will.
"If we only got these two learnings out of this app, it would already be worth it," Williams says.
Williams says that the asthma app has already helped researchers at Mount Sinai pinpoint different triggers for asthma based on location.
In Texas, for example, heat appears to be one of the main triggers for asthma in people who use the app. In New York, the number one trigger in users appears to be anger.
Getting that information only took researchers weeks and months instead of years, like it usually would, Williams said.
NOW WATCH: We did the math: Is Uber really cheaper than a taxi?
See Also:CBS CEO says network will 'probably' sign on for Apple's new TV service Snapchat CEO: 'We need to IPO'What Google looks for in entrepreneurs when it's thinking about acquiring a company
SEE ALSO: Snapchat is probably going to get rid of one video feature a lot of users find annoying