Last week the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) released details of its plan to create a blockchain based image sharing system. Part of the Department of Health, the NCI’s project hopes to build a dedicated network for storing and transferring medical images.
The approved project will be worked on by a team of academics from New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Led by Assistant Professor Jianjing Lin, PhD, the collaboration includes researchers in biomedical engineering and computer science.
The announcement outlines three key aims for the project. First, to create a prototype image transfer system using IBM Hyperledger, to enable sharing between various entities. This would include enabling patient privacy. Secondly, to ensure the prototype would be cost-effective if put to use, without compromising on patient care.
Finally, as long as the prototype works, the NCI hopes to submit the project for a grant proposal, “which will look very promising for sponsored research funds,” the announcement explains. Indeed, the project addresses many pain points in the current clinical imaging system.
Such images are invariably scattered amongst medical providers, which currently makes sharing painful. This has a knock-on effect on the quality of care for patients, as without the crucial data, medical professionals cannot make decisions on treatment.
The announcement also highlights the difficulty of sharing images for medical research, slowing progress on tech developments like artificial intelligence and machine learning for healthcare.
A solution to this issue must uphold patient privacy laws, which is a delicate balance to strike with conventional data transfer methods. The NCI’s announcement claims that the complexity of medical data management is a global problem, with stakeholders across the industry calling for a new approach.
A private, permissioned blockchain may provide the kind of security the industry is after. Patient data would be stored in an immutable ledger, with vital time information, and only viewable by authorized users. Additionally, different institutions could be allowed access to a single decentralized system, simplifying the data sharing process.
This isn’t the first cancer targeted blockchain. Some cancer therapies involve removing a patient’s cells for treatment, treating them and reimplanting them. Managing that supply chain is critical and hence there’s a blockchain for that.
An innovative application is exploring how medical payments could be tied to successful patient outcomes. Today EY announced its partnership with AI firm Sensyne Health and enterprise blockchain company Guardtime to advance assessing outcomes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg; healthcare is big business for blockchain applications with numerous projects in the works.