The advent of the Apple iWatch and other devices like it are likely to create all kinds of opportunities for monitoring the wearer's health. But in addition the combined data from these devices, if it could be made available to researchers, might take our understanding of certain diseases to a whole new level.

 Last week Apple announced the availability of a suite of software called ResearchKit that is supposed to make it easy to create apps that work with its mobile devices, including the iWatch. ResearchKit is "open source", meaning that anyone can use it to design data-collecting apps. Interesting apps currently available include GlucoSuccess, developed to help diabetics track their activity and keep track of their food intake; Asthma Health, to track asthmatic symptoms; and mPower, designed to track symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Other apps have been developed to monitor and record heart rate and levels of physical activity.

Each of these apps provides useful information to the individual who is wearing the device, and thus possibly to his/her doctor as well. But in addition, the user is asked to be a "citizen guinea pig", that is, to make their personal data available to researchers. The idea is that data collected from tens of thousands of persons in real time might have real power in helping us to learn more about the medical conditions being monitored and how to treat them.

It's worth thinking about the issue of privacy carefully before one decides to participate. But the idea that one could be helping others in the future is a real attraction.

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