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Hepatitis C and the C-Tracker

Posted on 17th February 2016 at 11:35am

The United States – and other countries around the world – are facing an impending viral epidemic. The name of this silent killer? Hepatitis C.

Unlike Hepatitis A or B, Hepatitis C lacks medical prevention methods such as vaccinations. Currently in the United States, chronic Hepatitis C is responsible for more deaths than the stigmatised HIV virus. In fact, in 2013, more than 19,000 deaths were caused by chronic hepatitis, far surpassing the fraction of casualties caused by the HIV virus.

Hepatitis C affects the liver (Shutterstock)

In light of these statistics, Hepatitis C begs immediate attention from medical researchers. While there are various medications on the market that treat the symptoms of the disease, researchers are still unaware of the personal implications of the disease and medications on those infected with the virus.

ResearchKit, an Apple engineered open source framework, has previously been utilised by researchers to understand and combat many different diseases like Autism and Parkinson’s disease. It allows researchers to create consent flows, real-time dynamic active tasks, and surveys using a variety of customisable modules where patients can easily upload their health information in the hopes of advancing universal medical knowledge.

The framework is now being used to run an app called the C –Tracker. This app allows patients to track their reactions to the Hepatitis C virus, the medication used to treat the symptoms, and how this affects their daily lives. It acts as personal medical diary that enables researchers to learn more about how the virus affects a person holistically. Since ResearchKit works seamlessly with HealthKit, another Apple creation, researchers can access even more relevant quantitative data for their studies including daily step counts, calorie use, and heart rate. This information is essential to learn more about the virus’ various effects and how to advance treatments. Researchers can use this as an alternative to the traditional clinical research because the app has a lower margin of error than an actual study would.

According to Researchkit’s blogs, the app is currently geared toward the anonymous public for results. Ultimately, Apple hopes for doctors to prescribe the use of the app to their patients as a method to track progress and have specific data for research studies.

This new app has been creating a lot of buzz in the medical world. Questions on the use of human research subjects and the need for an Institutional Review Board to oversee these studies may also come to fruition. Overall, Apple and the researchers usig the ResearchKit open source framework hope to combat the rising Hepatitis C epidemic in the United States. Beyond treating the symptoms of the disease and addressing the personal struggles it may cause, researchers would also find the use of the app helpful to create new prevention methods for this virus. This ensures a bright future for patients currently suffering from the incurable Hepatitis C virus that lacks prevention methods, and for members of the public who may be in danger of contracting it.

Gabrielle O Donoghue, Shimona Lahiri and Ian Portelli

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