Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, Healthcare and Precision Genomics – Can this work?

This seems like a match made in heaven, with the complicated, ever burdened EHR systems and the solve all hype of blockchain technology.
But is it really the case? That remains to be seen.

Blockchain was brought to life in 2008 by THE Satoshi Nakamoto and has been implemented in a variety of scenarios, the most popular being BitCoin.

But it seems only last year (2016) is when the ledger based block-chain technology was being actively implemented in healthcare setup. The biggest sell for this adoption has been a capability to permanently yet securely record health and genomics data. Medicinal Genomics, a cannabis genetics company, came up using blockchain for proof of existence to safeguard Intellectual Property.

Another bit of impressive work was summarized in the MIT white paper describing MedRec – a prototype for electronic health records and medical research data on a blockchain. It utilizes the ‘smart contracts’ power of Ethereum and incentivizes mining by way of providing data for research which translates to population-level insights into medical treatment and healthcare outcomes. Essentially MedRec provides an immutable medical history log that is comprehensive, accessible and credible. However, it is hard to understand how the archaic and clunky healthcare databases would talk to a blockchain system – seems to be a very considerable effort!

Estonia, the digital face of Europe, has secured citizen health records in a blockchain implementation, via contract to Gaurdtime. Dubai is testing blockchain for EMR and following suit.

While in US, it seems hackers have easier access to records than patients themselves!

A Premier Healthcare Alliance report suggests that this dysfunctional interoperability costs 150,000 lives and 18 billion dollars every year!! Blockchain promises to contribute to patient empowerment, medical transparency and seamless data flow between involved parties.

Moving over to blockchain genomics startups, Genecoin is weird/interesting as its tagline explains – Make a Backup of Yourself Using Bitcoin – why? Because plants send their seeds across via insects, humans should send their genomes far and wide across the digital megaverse! There is more, and this one I have to quote – “Humans currently preserve their genes by passing them down across generations. This is an incredible, but utimately unreliable backup method. We etch your DNA into culture’s most indestructible form: money itself” .. WOW!

Then there are these coin offerings, Zenome, a decentralized market of genomic data and services from a Russian startup and Shivom, a blockchain powered digital genome repository from an Indian startup, EncrypGen, a Gene-Chain with enhanced security for safe cloud storage and sharing of genomic data and ARNA genomics, a blood test for Breast Cancer and more. There may be many more sprouting up, do comment on those below. Then Luven Diagnostics promises a NON-INVASIVE screening test that can detect cancer in early stages within 15 minutes. Some of these have already had their Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) and token sales, calling them $DNA, $ZNA and what not! Meanwhile, there is also talk of private blockchain implementations in genomics but isn’t ‘public’ and ‘open’ the mantra of blockchain after all.

Obviously, its unclear how these would practically be deployed. Genomics tests done all over in diagnostic labs are used to getting consent and keeping the data for R&D and meta-analysis. There would need a large culture change to have users/patients not give consent, bring the data with themselves or perhaps have the testing lab deposit the data onto the cloud, in order to use the blockchain to make profit from selling their data to researchers/pharmaceuticals!

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