NIH, Fitbit launch 1st digital health leg of 'All of Us' project

The National Institutes of Health launched a project with Fitbit Jan. 16, marking the first digital health component of the agency's flagship precision medicine program.

The flagship program, dubbed "All of Us," has one goal: to engage at least 1 million participants in donating biological samples, genetic data and lifestyle information to the NIH. The agency's long-term vision is for All of Us to serve as a data resource for researchers working on precision medicine projects — in other words, those studying how to prevent and treat diseases based on individual lifestyle and genetic differences between patients.

In July 2018, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, said an estimated 42,000 volunteers had enrolled in All of Us. The program launched nationwide in May 2018.

Now, participants enrolled in All of Us can sync their Fitbits to provide researchers with access to their physical activity, heart rate and sleep data. It's a BYOD — or "bring your own device" — project, meaning participants will link up their personal Fitbits.

"This information, in combination with many other data types, will give us an unprecedented ability to better understand the impact of lifestyle and environment on health outcomes and, ultimately, develop better strategies for keeping people healthy in a very precise, individualized way," Eric Dishman, director of All of Us, said in a news release.

La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps Translational Science Institute — which is leading digital health efforts at All of Us — tapped Fitbit as the first wearables company to participate in the program in 2017. Fitbits are already the most popular consumer physical-activity trackers used in biomedical research, according to a 2017 study published in The FASEB Journal.

"Most of what researchers know is based on intermittent snapshots of health in an artificial setting or based on personal recall," Steven Steinhubl, MD, director of digital medicine at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, said when announcing the Fitbit collaboration in 2017. "Through this research program, we'll have access to comprehensive activity, heart rate and sleep data that may help us better understand the relationship between lifestyle behaviors and health outcomes."

A separate All of Us project, set to launch later this year, will offer up to 10,000 Fitbits to a subset of program participants.

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