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The FDA just approved an Apple Watch app to track Parkinson’s disease

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light to an Apple Watch app to monitor Parkinson’s disease, developed by San Francisco-based startup Rune Labs. As reported by Reuters, the Apple Watch’s pre-existing sensors can already detect falls, tremors, and other movement disorders consistent with symptoms of Parkinson’s. But Rune Labs has taken things a step further with its app, gathering individual data on the symptoms patients experience so that it can be shared with doctors to determine the best course of treatment.

Brian Pepin, CEO of Rune Labs, said that the data Apple Watch gathers through its Parkinson’s monitoring app will be combined with data from other sources, like brain implants. He also added that the app uses Rune Labs’ StrivePD software to send doctors continuous streams of data to give more context to movement patterns. This provides more data than doctors would get from observing a patient coming in for a short clinical visit, as symptoms of Parkinson’s disease change over time.

App menu on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

“When you think about the process of getting someone to their optimal therapy or combination of drugs or devices, or even whether or not a patient might be a good fit for a certain clinical trial, it’s a very hard decision to make when you only have a little context,” Pepin said.

Developers have been testing the Apple Watch’s monitoring of Parkinson’s disease ever since Apple introduced its ResearchKit framework in 2015. Originally, this allowed the Apple Watch to track users’ walking gait by prompting them to walk 20 steps every which way. Three years later, Apple updated ResearchKit with the Movement Disorder API, which can detect two common symptoms of Parkinson’s: tremors and dyskinesia, a side-effect of Parkinson’s medications that causes fidgeting and swaying motions.

The Parkinson’s monitoring app is the second Apple Watch software to receive FDA clearance after the agency cleared AFib History for use in watchOS 9 following its WWDC presentation last week. This feature tells users diagnosed with atrial fibrillation how frequently their heart rhythm shows signs of AFib, which, if left untreated, can cause a stroke and other cardiovascular complications.

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