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Apple unveils ResearchKit for meds

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Apple has announced researchKit, a software framework designed for medical and health research that helps doctors, scientists and other researchers gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants using mobile devices.

The first research apps developed using ResearchKit study asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, and have enrolled over 60,000 iPhone users in just the first few weeks of being available on the App Store. Starting now, medical researchers all over the world will be able to use ResearchKit to develop their own apps and developers can also contribute new research modules to the open source framework.

“We are delighted and encouraged by the response to ResearchKit from the medical and research community and the participants contributing to medical research. Studies that historically attracted a few hundred participants are now attracting participants in the tens of

thousands,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations. “Medical researchers all over the world are actively exploring how ResearchKit can help them study even more diseases, and we believe the impact on global understanding of health and wellness will be profound.”

The open source framework allows any medical researcher to take advantage of the initial modules in ResearchKit to study health and wellness and better understand disease. Developers can also build new modules based on the open source code and contribute them to ResearchKit.

The initial customisable modules address the most common elements found in research studies—participant consent, surveys and active tasks.

• Participant consent: Participant consent is a critical element to research studies, and with ResearchKit researchers can access a visual e-consent template that can be customised to explain the details of the study and obtain participant signatures. This module makes it easy for the researcher to include elements such as video segments explaining the study and an interactive quiz to confirm the participant’s understanding.

• Surveys: The survey module provides a pre-built user interface that makes it easy to customise questions and answers for study participants to complete and immediately share with researchers.

• Active Tasks: The Active Task module enables researchers to gather more targeted data for their study by inviting participants to perform activities that generate data using iPhone’s advanced sensors. Initial Active Task modules include tasks to measure motor activities, fitness, cognition and voice, and with the framework available as open source, the research community can contribute even more active tasks to ResearchKit.

“ResearchKit could help us reach people all over the world who are willing to contribute to medical research, but might not know how or be able to get involved,” said Ricky Bloomfield, Director of Mobile Technology Strategy and Assistant Professor in Internal Medicine & Pediatrics at Duke University. “Our team of researchers is now launching the development of an exciting new study using the ResearchKit framework, which will enable us to gather data quickly, from more participants than we are typically able to reach.”

“Because of the ubiquity of iPhone and the elegant implementation of consent, survey and instrumented data collection, ResearchKit has enormous promise for leading the transformation of how we engage patients in research,” said Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, of the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program. “Now that we have access to the ResearchKit framework, our team can start customising the initial modules and even design new ones for our particular study.”

ResearchKit turns iPhone into a powerful tool for medical research. When granted permission by the participant, ResearchKit apps can access data from advanced iPhone sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone and GPS to gain insight into a participant’s activity levels, motor impairments, memory and more. ResearchKit works seamlessly with HealthKit, a software framework Apple introduced with iOS 8 to provide developers the ability for health and fitness apps to communicate with each other. With permission from the participant, ResearchKit apps can access and use data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps.

For more information on ResearchKit, visit www.apple.com/researchkit and for details on how to access the open source framework, visit www.researchkit.org.

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps

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Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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