SRTI, WebMD team on study to better understand pregnancy health

The initiative is leveraging a smartphone-based platform to recruit pregnant women for study intended to better understand pregnancy.

The Scripps Research Translational Institute has partnered with WebMD on a smartphone-based platform to recruit pregnant women to participate in a study aimed at better understanding pregnancy.

The study’s platform—built on Apple’s ResearchKit framework—has been embedded into the WebMD Pregnancy App, which offers physician-approved content and tools. The goal is to recruit a large and diverse population of pregnant women to participate in the research that includes surveys and sensor-collected data measuring activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and sleep.

“We’re looking at many different factors during pregnancy and being better able to understand what’s normal during pregnancy, and to provide women with more individualized feedback and information about what is typical for women with their individual characteristics,” says Jennifer Radin, an epidemiologist and digital medicine expert at SRTI. “We’re hoping this will be a multi-decade research project.”

According to Radin, pregnant women have traditionally been underrepresented in biomedical research, with rates of maternal mortality in the United States among the highest in the developed world.

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Radin adds that by the study leveraging WebMD’s popular pregnancy app—which has been downloaded by more than 1.6 million people since 2013—researchers have a “captive” audience of pregnant women that are potential participants in the research.

To participate in the U.S.-only study, women must meet eligibility criteria as well as agree to electronic informed consent in order to be enrolled.

“Pregnant women are curious about their health—they want to understand what is normal for women like them and how they can keep themselves and their developing baby healthy,” concludes Radin. “Increasingly, they turn to apps to search for information and to ask other women about their pregnancy experiences. They are also using sensors to track and monitor their individual health.”

Currently, study participants must have an iPhone. However, researchers want to also include Android users.

“We’re now focusing on expanding the reach of our research app platform, by making it available to both iOS and Android users,” says Steven Steinhubl, MD, director of digital medicine at SRTI.

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