ResearchKit, a new software program developed by Apple, hopes to turn iPhone users into medical research subjects.

The software allows researchers to build apps that will collect data from users who opt into research programs. The collected data will go directly to the researchers, and Apple will not have access. Developers hope that such apps will help simplify the process of research subject recruitment and data collection, which can be extremely inefficient.

For a recent breast cancer study, epidemiologist Kathryn H. Schmitz of the University of Pennsylvania sent out 60,000 letters—and netted 351 women. Walking each participant through the paperwork took 30 minutes or more. Such inefficient methods of finding test subjects have been the norm for medical research.

Yet there’s a wealth of data out there from the billion smartphones and 70 million wearable health trackers we buy every year. Their sensors generate terabytes of data every day about our activity, sleep and behavior. Those data would be fantastically useful to medical investigators.

Using the new software, a recent study enrolled 5,000 asthma suffers over the course of 72 hours. According to Eric Schadt, the researcher behind the study, such a feat would have previously taken him years to complete.

“ResearchKit solves a number of the current challenges to clinical research,” Cardiologist Michael McConnell told Scientific American. “With it, you can recruit more people, bring costs down and allow for better sharing of research data.”

ResearchKit is open source, and is free for anyone to use or modify.

(Source: Scientific American)