Apple’s Newest ResearchKit Apps Will Study Autism, Epilepsy, And Melanoma

Transforming clinical studies, one app at a time


Apple announced yesterday that it is planning to use its ResearchKit platform to study three huge health problems: epilepsy, autism, and melanoma.

ResearchKit is Apple’s open-source health software platform that lets researchers design apps for medical research. It was launched seven months ago, and has already been used by researchers across the country to study diseases including Parkinson’s and asthma.

Now research institutions are launching three new apps. Combined with the tools already available on ResearchKit, the company hopes the apps will allow more people to participate in clinical trials, which will provide researchers with more data from a diverse background–a crucial component for studying how and why certain diseases occur.

With ResearchKit, researchers can study participants from around the world, not just near where the study is based. And with the help of the open source platform, researchers can incorporate the iPhone’s camera, accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, and GPS sensors into their studies. Here are the three latest apps and how they will work:

Mole Mapper

Mole Mapper will use the iPhone’s camera to track moles’ growth, in order to detect melanoma at its earliest stages. “Melanoma is the poster child for early detection. If we can identify melanomas earlier by creating a simple way for patients to share images of their moles we can learn more about the progression of the disease,” said Sancy Leachman, director of the Melanoma Research Program at the Oregon Heath and Science University. Users can take pictures and track changes in their moles, and share those images with their doctors. In return, researchers will potentially be able to use tens of thousands of images to create algorithms that could be used as a screening tool for melanoma.

Autism & Beyond

Duke University and Duke Medicine are launching “Autism &Beyond”, which will use the iPhone’s front-facing camera and a new, emotion-detecting algorithm software to analyze a child’s reaction to videos watched through the iPhone.


Johns Hopkins University researchers developed EpiWatch—a novel study in which wearable sensors that come with the Apple Watch can detect the onset and duration of seizures. A tap on the screen triggers EpiWatch to use accelerometer and heart rate data to track a seizure, and also send an alert to a loved one. The app can also log all these seizures in one spot and track medication adherence as well as analyze side effects.
Claire Maldarelli
Claire Maldarelli

is the Science Editor at Popular Science. She has a particular interest in brain science, the microbiome, and human physiology. In addition to Popular Science, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, and Scholastic’s Science World and Super Science magazines, among others. She has a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology from the University of California, Davis and a master’s in science journalism from New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. Contact the author here.