Google, Harvard unveil Android medical research app

Credit: Google

Google has partnered with Harvard medical school to launch an app that lets anyone with an Android phone participate in medical research.

The Google Health Studies app, available now, will first teach him how to study respiratory diseases like COVID-19 and the common flu.

With this new app, participants can provide data either in response to surveys or by using touch indicators such as heart rate and temperature received over the phone.

Boston children's hospital joins the project.

Dr. John Braunstein, Director of innovation at Boston children's hospital and a Professor at Harvard medical school, emphasized the importance of such a potentially powerful tool in the fight against the epidemic.

"With the emergence of COVID-19 along with seasonal respiratory pathogens, research is needed now more than ever to develop more effective treatments and mitigation," Braunstein said. "Google Health Studies provides people with a safe and easy way to participate in medical research , allowing researchers to discover new epidemiological data about respiratory diseases."

The focus will be on privacy and security, Google said in a blog post this week. The app uses an approach called federated learning and Analytics, which means that instead of collecting huge amounts of data on a single server, the Google Health Studies app will store data in a decentralized system without sharing data. This will help provide greater control over data privacy, security, and access rights, while ensuring that participants are anonymous.

Open to all adults, the program will examine participants ' data while tracking their movements within the community or while traveling. Participants will regularly report on how they feel, what preventive measures they may have taken, and the results of medical examinations. Demographic data will also be used, including the age, gender, and race of participants.

"Researchers in this study can study trends to understand the relationship between mobility (such as the number of daily trips a person makes outside of home) and the spread of COVID-19," Google said in a statement.

Last year, Apple initiated a similar project with its Research app. These studies collected data on the menstrual cycle, hearing, and heart health. Apple provided a ResearchKit program that allowed researchers to create their own iPhone apps.

Braunstein noted that the Android project will affect a population that is sometimes overlooked in research, which is different from the typical iPhone user. Observing that Android phone users typically have a lower average income than iPhone users, he said the Google Health Studies app opens up valuable opportunities for new research.

"Android is probably a more diverse data set [than the iPhone]. We are very happy to be able to use this, " he said.

Along with strict security measures, the new app allows participants to view all the data they provide. Google prohibits transferring or selling data to anyone.

Participants will be able to access research results as they are completed.

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