Posted by:Shyam Deval August 3rd, 2016

The Precision Medicine Initiative was announced by President Obama in his 2015 State of the Union Address. This initiative seeks to revolutionize the way diseases are treated through a thorough research effort aimed at studying individual differences in people and how these differences affect treatment and care.

Moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach, this effort seeks to understand differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyles and how this knowledge can be used for ‘personalized’ treatment of diseases. Better insights into influences like behavior and environment can help in gaining a deeper understanding of the disease, its effects and prevention.

The President has earmarked $215 million in fiscal year 2016 for this initiative. Of this proposed budget, $130 million was allocated to NIH to build a national level research participant group or a cohort. This massive initiative seeks to build a large scale research participant group of one million or more US participants across diverse social, racial, ethnic, age groups, economic circumstances and geographies.

And the timing could not be better.

A growing number of people are increasingly becoming engaged in their health, healthcare has become more digital, big data and analytics have become more sophisticated, smartphones are becoming a health tool and wearables/ingestibles are slowly, but surely making their mark. With revolutionary frameworks like Apple’s ResearchKit and ResearchStack, the mobile has become a powerful medium to enroll participants in research studies. They seek to help researchers combat challenges like lower participation rates, selection biases, low volumes of data and high cost of data collection.

The PMI Cohort Program will focus on many diseases, including Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes and heart related ailments. The data coming in from such studies will be a gold mine for researchers on furthering scientific and medical research. A key goal would also be participant privacy and engagement.

To this end, NIH recently awarded $120m to Scripps Research Institute, Vibrent Health, PatientLikeMe ( an online patient community platform), Sage Bionetworks and Walgreens to enroll 350,000 participants. These 5 companies will build apps and enroll participants.

This underlines the importance of mobile apps as a powerful tool in the world of medical research today.

  • Mobile Apps have the potential to target a large base of users leading to more participants and as a resultant, more data.
  • This data is collected from an application and thus errors resulting from manual processes like transcribing are reduced.
  • Mobile Apps also mean that researchers can leverage the many powerful sensors and processors ( for example, tracking movement) that are standard with today’s smartphones to gather new types of data. Also, the participant’s role in data entry is greatly minimized as data can be gotten from the device itself, from wearables or other sources.
  • It encourages higher participation in research studies by leveraging the ‘anywhere anytime’ premise of the mobile to collect data thus helping researchers overcome resource and logistical constraints.

Putting people front and center – And when we are talking of enrolling a million plus participants, Precision Medicine has indeed found the right ally in mobile apps. Any thoughts on leveraging mobile apps in medical research ? I would love to hear them. Download this infographic to learn how mobile apps can aid patient recruitment.

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