May 2, 2022
UCalgary alumni create female-focused health-tracking app
Fitness tracker apps are popular and used by amateur and pro athletes to track their progress and goals.
As UCalgary students and varsity rowing athletes, Danika Kelly, BA’15, MSc’18, and Renee Kokts-Porietis, BA’18, MSc’20, used a fitness app to manage their training programs. They quickly realized their menstrual cycles would affect their desired weight goals and introduce uncertainty while preparing for competition. At that moment, they realized fitness apps were built for men.
“While there are a number of fitness apps on the market, and a number of period apps — there was no app that could track both fitness and menstrual cycles together, which is important as menstrual cycles affect your health and wellness,” says Kelly.
After completing grad school, Kelly and Kokts-Porietis were still perplexed by the lack of holistic solutions, and decided to form My Normative: an app that focuses on female-specific fitness and health data. Their app launched in 2021.
Coming from a background in kinesiology, the founders of My Normative not only built the female-focused fitness app they had been looking for, they wanted to reduce the gender data gap by incorporating research into the product.
“We knew we wanted to make an impact with our app, and we wanted the app to be science-based,” says Kelly.
That’s when they created a partnership with the Doyle-Baker lab at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Kinesiology.
“Getting your period is just one point in the menstrual cycle. The entire cycle includes hormone fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone that affect a women’s health and wellness,” says Dr. Tish Doyle-Baker, Dr. PH, PhD, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology. Her lab looks for answers to very specific research questions such as, Can we forecast menstrual cycle length? based on data provided by volunteers using the app.
To provide answers, the lab is conducting a study that will over time gather 5,000 points of data from research participants, who use the app to collect and record their information. The lab then verifies those results using traditional biomarker laboratory tests based on urinary samples to measure ovulation, spit kits for hormone profiles, and blood testing.
Formalizing the partnership
Kelly and Kokts-Porietis worked with the university’s knowledge engagement team to discover and connect with university resources to formalize their partnership in a way that protects customer privacy, adheres to ethical research standards, and maximizes mutual benefit.
“We’re really passionate about IP, data and making sure we set everyone up for success from the start. We want the lab to get what it needs for their research interests,” says Kelly. “We wanted to iron out the legalities and obligations to one another to have a long-term partnership with the lab.”
Although anyone can download and start using the app, participation in the research program is not automatic and requires a traditional research study application and consent process.
“It was a process to figure out how we could have research participants use the app. The data sharing agreement was the hardest part of the process,” says Kelly.
Narrow the gender data gap
“We built our app to protect every user’s privacy (the company can’t access identifiable individual user data), however, the ethics approval also required us to separately anonymize any participant data being collected.”
Kelly and Kokts-Porietis want My Normative to provide users with an accurate picture into their health and wellness, but they also hope they can help collect larger datasets useful for informing policy.
“We don’t have enough datasets on female bodies and systems. In the early days when we were researching this area, we noticed most studies that were done on physical activity and the menstrual cycle were pilot studies with 10-15 participants and larger studies were still only around 75 participants,” said Kokts-Porietis.
“There is and continues to be a large gender data gap. We hope we can contribute to narrowing that gap.”
If you want to participate in the My Normative app research study please visit the University of Calgary’s study recruitment site to search for studies that are currently recruiting volunteers. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
UCalgary will also be presenting an online session on Papering Partnerships on May 31. Co-presented by the Knowledge Engagement team and the Research Services Legal & IP team, this session will help you develop an understanding of the relationship maintenance practices for keeping your partnerships strong. This session will explore the variety of research collaboration scenarios available, the benefits/trade-offs of each and the agreements required.