Your smartphone could be a valuable tool for medical research

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Your smartphone could be a valuable tool for medical research — and for treating a variety of ailments.

IBM wants to use the power of its Watson computing system — which famously won TV’s “Jeopardy” a few years back — to analyze mountains of data collected from individuals who use health-related smartphone apps, fitness bands and other gadgets. A new IBM business will provide Internet computing services for health-care companies and researchers to collect and analyze that data, along with information from patient treatment records and research trials.

By combining all that data, and then searching for trends and patterns, IBM believes researchers could gain new insights into treatment and prevention. The company promises the information will be “anonymized” to protect individuals’ privacy and used only with their consent.

IBM is also working with other companies to use Watson’s analytical prowess in new health services. Johnson & Johnson is developing “intelligent coaching” apps for patients recovering from surgery. Medtronic is creating programs to help diabetics monitor glucose and adjust their insulin treatment. Apple will let researchers use IBM’s platform to analyze data from health apps on iPhones.

Apple already has software tools called HealthKit to help individuals track fitness and health data on their iPhones. This week, Apple launched ResearchKit for scientists to create more specialized apps for medical studies. ResearchKit had been limited to five pilot groups until now. Some of those apps gather data from iPhone sensors like the microphone, which can measure voice tremors caused by Parkinson’s Disease, and the accelerometer, which can measure changes in a walker’s gait. Apple says 60,000 iPhone owners have already downloaded those apps and enrolled in medical studies.

Apple also announced that its annual developers conference will be held June 8 to 12 in San Francisco. That’s when Apple typically previews the next versions of its Mac and iOS mobile systems.

BRANDON BAILEY, AP Technology Writer

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