The blockchain is good for your health!

Advances in artificial intelligence in health are today hampered by the difficulty of accessing data, which is necessary to drive deep learning algorithms. A transparent and secure database, the Blockchain could offer a way to centralize health information while respecting the anonymity of patients.

Since IBM decided to use its Watson supercomputer in cancer detection, a lot of ink has leaked around the potential of artificial intelligence in health. On the model currently being tested by IBM Watson in several hospitals, image recognition can be used to help radiologists detect abnormalities and potential diseases on an MRI. In a research article published by the American College of Radiology , researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, predict that artificial intelligence will soon become an integral part of the daily lives of radiologists, and will make their work more efficient, accurate and satisfactory.

Artificial intelligence can also scan patients’ medical records and genomes for information that can help make a diagnosis or treatment easier. Medical research could also greatly benefit from the contribution of artificial intelligence: by browsing the latest scientific publications, it would help build bridges between different works and identify the most promising discoveries, see to automate the process peer review.Artificial intelligence can also facilitate the discovery of new drugs and their compliance with health standards in force, to accelerate their entry into the market. Add the virtual assistants used to monitor patients remotely or the use of robots in rehabilitation, and we understand that the technology is generating some enthusiasm.

Most of the recent advances in artificial intelligence are based on deep learning, a branch of the discipline that allows machines to improve with experience, and is based on deep neural networks. , inspired by the functioning of the human brain. The deep learning lies behind AlphaGo , the all-round go game champion developed by Google Deepmind, but also behind the software that drives autonomous cars , or the image recognition techniques that allow Watson to analyze an MRI. If its performance is staggering, deep learning needs an immense amount of data to express its potential. In the age of the Internet and connected objects, health data are not lacking. However, these are often fragmented, difficult to access and exploitable.


Data fragmentation, a brake on innovation

The problem is particularly acute in the United States, where the health system is complex and involves different stakeholders. Thus, while the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives patients the right to access and control their health data, in practice this access is often limited, as shown by the Reuters in an article published in 2016. Patients remain unaware of the content and value of their medical data. In addition, patient data is stored by their health provider on a private server, which prevents their circulation and exploitation by other actors (for example, to train an artificial intelligence program to recognize the symptoms of a sickness).

Health data

Note also that health data is not limited to information collected by physicians about their patients. In the era of new technologies, data from medical imaging, laboratory tests (such as blood tests), genetic tests, and those generated by wearables also need to be taken into account . The data is thus stored in different silos (doctors, hospitals, insurers, laboratories, start-ups …) with very little exchange between them. On the other hand, given the sensitive and private nature of this information, practicing a policy of full openness and free flow of data is, of course, not an option.

As a result, young health-intensive AIs are spending a large part of their budget buying data sets to train their algorithms. Confronted with a limited budget, they can often afford only a limited amount of data, which limits the possibilities of their solutions. In other words: the data exist, just as there is the technology to exploit them, but a common database is missing, capable of circulating them among the various actors, while respecting their confidential nature. Until recently, there was no technology that could disseminate information in an open, collaborative and secure manner. But with the advent of the Blockchain, things are changing.

The blockchain to secure health data


A giant medical database enabled by the Blockchain

A data center

The Blockchain is a new way of storing information. This is a database that is not centralized, but distributed. Each participant has a copy on his computer, which he can freely consult and modify. The Blockchain is therefore also transparent. If everyone has access to the database, how do you prevent a little clever person from changing the information to serve his interests? In the case of Bitcoin, for example, how do you prevent an ill-intentioned person from artificially increasing the amount of Bitcoin he has?

To counter this pitfall, each transaction must be verified and approved by some network participants, called “miners”, using complex cryptographic techniques. Security is thus provided by the individuals themselves rather than by a central entity. Once back, the information is visible to all participants. Simple and devilishly effective. Marc Andreessen , Silicon Valley’s historic investor, sees Blockchain as the most important invention from the Internet.

Healthcare providers, insurers and pharmacies store all their information in the same register for a given patient, and everyone can access the data entered by others.

This double hat, both open and secure, makes the Blockchain the ideal technology to solve the dilemma that is slowing the progress of artificial intelligence in health today. “The Blockchain is a digital registry that records and then shares transactions and interactions in chronological order, bringing security and interoperability to healthcare providers and their patients. In this area, each visit of a patient, each diagnosis, prescribed treatment and other key data included in the electronic health record constitute the transactions. Healthcare providers, insurers and pharmacies store all their information in the same register for a given patient, and everyone can access the data entered by others. “ Describes Sandy Hathaway , entrepreneur and venture capitalist, in an article on Medium. “Blockchains hosting health data can and must be created as ecosystems based on a principle of permission, with trusted collaborators. Additional controls must also protect the information that makes their owner identifiable while allowing the sharing of anonymous health data. She adds.

The Blockchain, a real opportunity in health

Allow patients to control their data

delete intermediaries to recheck the data

Such a device would, on the one hand, break the silos to unify the different data sets, and thus create a unified register to implement promising applications around artificial intelligence. In addition, the transparent and unalterable aspect of the Blockchain would enhance the reliability of health data, making errors more easily identifiable and promoting synergies between different health actors. This is at least what IBM claims in a report published in 2017, studying the use of Blockchain in the storage of health data.

“Blockchains could replace middlemen who were previously responsible for ensuring data integrity. Smaller organizations could join this ecosystem to compete with big fish. Private actors could access and create new sources of data, whether it is welfare data recorded by personal devices or information collected by home care aides. We read. And since data is crucial for the training of artificial intelligence programs, it is preferable that these data be as reliable as possible.

The Blockchain would also provide better visibility in the value chain: the history of each drug could be traced, from its creation until its arrival in the hands of the patient. This could help fight counterfeit medicines more effectively.

The combination of Blockchain and AI could allow a structural change where all parties would share their data in a decentralized way, and the system would use this data to make good decisions.

A recent study published by the journal Biomedical Research Oncotarget looks at the possibilities of convergence between Blockchain and artificial intelligence around health. In this, researchers imagine the establishment of a health data market, where patients, having full control over their data and access rights to them, could make them accessible to developers, pharmaceutical companies and other research institutes willing to use them to train their artificial intelligence software for therapeutic purposes, all for a fee. A winning model for different stakeholders.

“The combination of Blockchain and artificial intelligence could enable a structural change where all parties would share their data in a decentralized manner, and where the system could collectively use this data to make good decisions. This could solve the legal imbroglios of health: scattered data, regulations restricting sharing and analysis of data, and lack of incentives to share data to serve research and training of artificial intelligence . “ Says his side Gunjan Bhardwaj co-founder of the connected healthcare startups Innoplexus at Forbes magazine.

In search of a regulatory framework

This idea is slowly starting to find a place in the e-health landscape. In January 2017, IBM and the US Food and Drugs Administration, the federal agency responsible for public health, joined forces to test the secure exchange of medical data via the Blockchain. Last October, IBM set the stage again with a new partnership, this time with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first national public health institute in the US, to explore the possibilities of Blockchain. around health.

Blockchain, a friend of our data

Blockchain, a friend of our data

In the UK , Deepmind , Google’s artificial intelligence subsidiary behind AlphaGo’s design, has partnered with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) around the world. Connected Health, recently announced that it will build a Blockchain for this project. The start-up Gem , specializing in blockchain, has teamed up with the company Philips to develop applications around health. Let’s also mention the recent partnership between the Longenesis and Neuromation start-ups  , respectively specialized in Blockchain and artificial intelligence, to set up a global health data market hosted on the Blockchain, according to the model described by the study. ‘Oncotarget. The Russian start-up Skychain , which is currently conducting its first fundraising, also aims to make health data more accessible to developers of artificial intelligence via the Blockchain.

For such an ecosystem to be in place, however, the health industry needs to quickly define and adopt a regulatory framework to frame these new practices, to ensure that they benefit public health and respect the privacy of Canadians. patients. “The health sector needs to build consortia to facilitate partnerships and create standards for future large-scale implementation around different health applications. “ SaysKamaljit Behera , an analyst specializing in health economics, the media Health Analytics. In this regard, the commitment of the FDA and the CDC to IBM is a good sign. The Pistoia Alliance , a non-profit organization that promotes scientific research, is also very interested in Blockchain opportunities in health.

Written by Guillaume Renouard
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