Apple and Biogen announce a study into cognitive health using Apple Watch

Apple Watch SE
Apple Watch SE (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple and Biogen have announced a joint study that will look for digital biomarkers related to various illnesses.
  • The study will use data collected by iPhones and Apple Watches.

Apple and research firm Biogen have announced a joint study that will use iPhone and Apple Watch data to try and identify digital biomarkers that could prove early indicators for illnesses like Alzheimer's and other issues relating to cognitive decline.

The theory is relatively simple. By studying how people engage with their iPhone and Apple Watch, Biogen hopes to be able to spot the early signs of cognitive decline, allowing potential treatment to be considered sooner. That could have a huge impact on a patient's quality of life as they grow older.

Apple COO Jeff Williams said that the company is looking forward to learning how iPhone and Apple Watch can help.

"Working in collaboration with Biogen, we hope this study can help the medical community better understand a person's cognitive performance by simply having them engage with their Apple Watch and iPhone," said Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer. "We're looking forward to learning about the impact our technology can have in delivering better health outcomes through improved detection of declining cognitive health."

As you might expect, privacy is of the utmost importance with such a study and Biogen says that users will be able to stop taking part at any time. Data will also be stored on protected systems, too.

The virtual study allows adult users across the aging lifespan to join. The study has been designed with customer privacy, control and transparency in mind as well as data security. Participants, who can stop taking part in the study at any time, will complete a detailed consent form listing the collected data types and how each may be used and shared. Data will be stored in an encrypted manner and in systems with strong security controls designed to protect the data.

Biogen says that the new multi-year effort will begin "later in 2021."

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.