The University of Michigan introduced a new study to investigate the relationship between biosensors and health results earlier this month, following a pilot program in September.  The Michigan Predictive Activity and Clinical Trajectories (MIPACT) study is analyzing information from Apple Watches to see if it can offer accurate data on health and wellness.

Dr. Sachin Kheterpal, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University’s Medical School, is leading the MIPACT team and is interested in using biosensors like Apple Watches because they have become a prevalent part of society.

In an email interview, Kheterpal said not much research exists on the data devices like Apple Watches collect.

“In recent years, wearable technology has rapidly spread into consumer markets and provides unique opportunities to engage individuals on tracking and managing their health,” Kheterpal said. “Utilization of mobile applications in health care research and administration can streamline patient consent, data collection and distribution of health care interventions.”

Kheterpal said his team wanted to use Apple Watches because of their ability to tabulate certain data information often absent in research efforts aiming to improve medical care.

“These wearable devices can be utilized to measure a variety of physiological and contextual data, such as the number of steps taken, stand hours, heart rate, heart rate recovery and other activity data,” Kheterpal said.

University spokesperson and Senior Public Relations Representative Jared Wadley uses a Fitbit activity tracker and said he was initially interested in participating in the study after learning about the large array of data Apple Watches are able to track.

“Not only could I track my exercise and walking progress, but it sounded like an interesting research,” Wadley said. “It sounded like an interesting study to not only continue what I already do in terms of my exercise, but to monitor it a little bit better than I originally had with the Fitbit.”

Wadley said he felt the Apple Watch worked better than his former Fitbit device inasmuch as it more closely followed his movements and alerted him to constantly stay active.

At the start of the study, Wadley and all other participants partook in an initial test where their blood was examined and their mobile devices and blood pressure monitors were synced to the Apple Watch. The initial test was followed by a 15 to 30-day trial period, after which each participant officially became a part of the study. Participants must wear the device for 12 hours per day for 15 days every month throughout the course of the three-year study.

Nirav Shah, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University, described how each subject will participate in the study.

“During the study, participants wear the watch, obtain home blood pressure readings and perform a guided breathing task two times a day,” Shah said. “Also, participants donate a blood sample for routine laboratory testing at the beginning of study, and are sent survey questions via an app on their iPhone on a variety of health topics during the study.”

With information from the Apple Watches, blood tests and questionnaires, the study will help determine whether information from Apple Watches can properly predict onset health issues and give researchers a better understanding of certain health patterns relating to those health concerns.  

MIPACT will make projections on the development of chronic diseases in participants with information from their electronic health records and compare those results with data collected from Apple Watches over the course of the study. To ensure privacy and protection of health information, all data will be stored with a code instead of an identifier, such as a name or date of birth.  

Researchers are also interested in how inherited traits can cause certain health conditions. Through DNA testing of participants, MIPACT will be able to investigate this trend. To accomplish this, the study is collaborating with the Michigan Genomics Initiative, a research effort led by physicians and researchers at the University aiming at integrating patient electronic health records, surveys and genetic data to discover certain biomedical insights. With more than 60,000 participants enrolled in MGI, the information gathered has enabled researchers to realize the biological and social framework of diseases such as opioid use and cancer.

Kheterpal said MIPACT’s goal is to better understand the relationship between biosensors, health information and health outcomes.  

“By asking participants to wear an Apple Watch and use a blood pressure monitor, we will be able to better understand their daily health and level of activity,” Kheterpal said.

The research will assist doctors and patients in learning how to interpret data from wearable technology like the Apple Watch. However, Kheterpal said it is still unclear whether or not MIPACT will be able to predict the growth of diseases with the study’s data.

“While we are not driving changes in management of these disease in the current study, the data we collect and the participant community we develop will be the foundation for future studies designed to change disease management and wellness maintenance,” Kheterpal said.

With already more than 1,000 participants, MIPACT looks to enroll thousands more patients within the University’s academic medical center into the study in the coming months. 

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