Searching for Mood/Health Connections with Apple’s ResearchKit

This is a repost of a LinkedIn piece by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Maurey.

 “He who can believe himself well, will be well.” – Ovid

A year ago I reflected here on the launch of Apple’s ResearchKit, a software tool that not only gives people the ability to monitor their health, but to easily share the results with physicians and scientists. It wasn’t hard to imagine how ResearchKit could transform the iPhone into a powerful medical tool that would allow researchers to gather large amounts of data more efficiently and accurately.

It has not disappointed. In late March Sage Bionetworks announced that mPower, its Parkinson’s disease app that works with ResearchKit, already has 12,000 registered users just one year in. That’s a remarkable milestone for a disease that has been diagnosed in some one million people in the United States; it would take years for a clinical trial to recruit that many patients by traditional methods. Other ResearchKit apps are being used to screen for autism, help patients predict seizures, and investigate a myriad of other diseases.

Apple also just unveiled several advancements to ResearchKit, including the integration of genetic data and new medical tests. As Apple COO Jeff Williams said in making the announcement, “the opportunities for iPhone in medical research are endless.”

Among those opportunities is the chance to explore one of the knottiest problems in medicine: the impact of mood on health. Today the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is launching the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit, an innovation competition calling for ResearchKit proposals that will further understanding of mood and how it relates to daily life. The Challenge, funded by RWJF, will award $500,000 and provide finalists with expert mentorship and piloting opportunities.

Since Ovid made the connection more than 2000 years ago, scientists have known that mood is linked to health, but they aren’t sure how the two are related. A 2011 meta-survey of the literature found lots of connections, but none of the studies were large or rigorous enough to determine whether one’s mood can make you physically sick, or if mood is a reflection of your health. We also need a better understanding of how social and economic factors, such as weather, pollution, access to food, sleep, and social connectedness, affect both mood and health. Furthering scientific understanding of mood is critical to building a Culture of Health, which is why we are supporting this Challenge.

I urge researchers, technologists, and data scientists to join this effort by submitting a proposal by May 22, 2016. We’re proud to advance research in this field and excited to see what solutions entrants will propose to help build a Culture of Health in America.