Blockchain technology can power an open DNA data marketplace that drives a new wave of genomics research to transform precision medicine and the treatment of rare diseases.
Humanity is at the very beginning of a tremendously exciting era of precision medicine. The cost of genome sequencing a person has already fallen below the $1000 dollar mark. Soon it will be down to $100. Gradually, a growing percentage of the world’s population is being afforded the opportunity to receive health treatment and lifestyle advice relevant to their genetic makeup, and also to share their genomic data for the betterment of humanity.
This means researchers and health professionals could soon enjoy access to a vast resource of genomic sequencing data and health records that could help them investigate disease and transform patient outcomes.
However there are many obstacles to overcome first.
Firstly, science needs access to extremely large numbers of genomic and other healthcare datasets in order to gather meaningful and potentially transformational information. Secondly, for the promise of precision medicine to be fulfilled, data must be easily sharable and interoperable across technological, geographic, jurisdictional, and professional boundaries.
There are many ongoing initiatives across the globe aiming to facilitate the sharing of genomic data and thereby enabling precision medicine progress. Health apps based on genomic and other health data are good examples. But frequently, they are addressing the sharing problem from different angles, or often simply competing against each other. This stifles research and innovation and prevents medicine and healthcare moving forward at the pace it should.
Ending the genomic data monopoly
In reality, a few large businesses currently hold the monopoly on the vast majority of genomic data, and make vast profits from selling it to third parties, usually without sharing the earnings with the data donor. Things have to change.
There needs to be a means by which patients, health professionals, governments, researchers and providers of health technology can access data, cooperate, collaborate, network, and form partnerships.
I believe the world needs a centralized health data hub – an open marketplace where health and genomic data can be shared, borrowed, or sold. Of course this platform would have to be secure. But by utilizing blockchain technology and next-generation cryptography, trust could easily be built around the ecosystem, alleviating consumer hesitations about leaving personal data online or in the hands of corporations.
Healthcare and wellness providers such as clinics, genomic counselors, pharmaceuticals, research organizations, governments, patient-support groups and insurance companies that joined such an ecosystem would no longer have to compete with each other to gather data. It would be there for them all to use – for example, to boost clinical trials or facilitate drug research and development.
But there would have to be incentives for people beyond donating their data for the betterment of mankind. Firstly, they should be empowered to share their data however they liked, whether donating, loaning or selling it. Blockchain technology would enable them to stay in absolute control of their data – in the knowledge it is totally secure. Individuals should also be able to benefit from access to applications that leverage their data and enhance their wellbeing and health – for example, nutritional and fitness advice, treatment plans, genealogy, disease predisposition, pharmacogenomics, and lifestyle management.
Looking into the future, as more personalized biological information becomes available, services could be offered that are based not only on genomic data, but also other health, biological, socioeconomic, and environmental information. When combining genomic data with other molecular data, such as epigenomic, metabolomic, transcriptomic, microbiome data, and clinical information, the resulting rich datasets enable integrative analyses to be carried out at unprecedented depth and scale, facilitating new insights into molecular disease processes.
By implementing an open, collaborative platform and marketplace, critical mass will be achieved faster in precision medicine, utilizing the magnifying power of network effects. Of course, this data hub has to be international. Today, many ethnic and geographical populations are still worryingly underrepresented in public databases.
This is an exciting time in healthcare, all the technologies are in place to transform the health of humanity. Like the world was changed forever by the invention of the internet, the healthcare ecosystem is ripe to be revolutionized through giving data ownership back to the people, ushering in a new form of global healthcare. The destiny of world civilization may depend upon providing decent healthcare for all humanity; that is what civilization is all about.