Adding to the growing list of smartphone-based clinical research studies, the University of Nebraska Medical Center has launched the neuroAIDS study to better understand HIV-associated neurocognitive diseases.

The ResearchKit based app HAND in HAND was developed by the Chronic HIV Infection and Aging in NeuroAIDS Center, an NIMH-funded center that studies neurologic changes associated with HIV, and software developer Digital Artefacts. Participants will be asked to share health data collected via HealthKit and surveys assessing their history.

Assessment and tracking of neurocognitive status will be done by using a really interesting platform called BrainBaseline, which offers several validated cognitive tests adapted for mobile devices. BrainBaseline, which is run by Digital Artefacts, is also advertised as being ResearchKit compatible and as such could offer a really interesting “plug and play” option for researchers to integrate cognitive assessments into their studies.

It’s not hard to imagine application of this kind of platform in other neurocognitive diseases, such as Alzheimers, where it could prove to be useful for tracking, say, response to therapy either clinically or in the context of drug trials. In the case of the latter, the scalability of this kind of tracking solution would make it feasible to implement both in pre-approval and post-market studies, giving insights into efficacy vs. effectiveness using the same yardstick.

neuroAIDS & the HAND in HAND ResearchKit app are part of a rapidly growing list of digital health studies that are leveraging smartphones to build enormous, national & international cohorts to study a wide range of health conditions in the real world. While there are limitations to this approach, the advantages in terms of scale and cost are well recognized. neuroAIDS highlights another advantage – so long as the platforms on which these studies are conducted remain open, there are big opportunities at this stage to build validated tools that researchers could essentially drag and drop into their studies.