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Healthcare Blockchain Improves to Handle Genome Data

As healthcare blockchain continues to develop, organizations need to consider open source work groups and how to expand the amount of data that can be exchanged.

healthcare blockchain

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare blockchain is still in its infancy and many vendors and organizations are working on proof of concept (POC) projects to prove that the technology has a place in health IT infrastructure.

Currently, healthcare blockchain is being used for payment transactions, but developers are looking to prove other ways the technology can help the healthcare industry. Blockchain has potential to improve interoperability and data exchange.

Blockchain is the exchange of information between nodes (e.g., users, organizations) via a shared database without the regulation of a third party controlling the data through a single silo. It leads to the creation of a trusted history of transactions between organizations sharing data.

Each transaction between organizations consists of a block that holds the data from the current transaction along with a hash linking back to the previous transaction, thus creating a chain. Every transaction is documented and users cannot go back and alter past data.

DNAtix announced the success of its first POC by transferring the complete genome sequence of a virus over the Ethereum Blockchain. The virus, Enterobacteria phage phiX174 sensu lato, is a single-stranded DNA virus.

"Transferring the sequence of a virus, which in terms of size of genetic data of a living organisms is just the first step," DNAtix CSO and Co-founder Dr. Tal Sines said in a statement. "DNA is the key to improve your life style and healthcare."

Transferring genomes takes a lot of computing power and storage because of the amount of data they contain. The human genome contains about 700 megabytes of data after it’s processed and compressed. Even after using compression methods and only focusing on differences such as mutations, the size of the data is still too large to be handled by current blockchain technology.

If organizations want to use blockchain for data exchange, the technology needs to be able to handle large data blocks like genomes.

The virus data transfer DNAtix completed used a compression algorithm it developed and took the virus which was 1348 bytes, and reduced it by 75 percent by implementing a Python script.

"Our Genetic ecosystem will enable better genetic understanding by allowing players in the market to use our open source technology, and introduce new developments," DNAtix CEO and Co-founder Ofer Lidsky said in a statement.

Open source technology is key to the growth of healthcare blockchain because the technology is so new and needs to be developed quickly.

Open source is vital to the advancement of software. A group of developers from different organizations can collaborate on a piece of code. The open source community takes the code that’s being worked on and releases it into open source projects.

Enterprise grade open source can be used successfully in healthcare because the open source code is taken by a vendor and made secure for enterprise. Enterprise grade open source is what allows open source software to be HIPAA compliant.

For blockchain in particular, working together on open source projects encourages interoperability because many organizations and vendors have their hand in the development process so it’s built to be shared.

Open source blockchain work groups exist to guide organizations in their blockchain development. Work groups are mainly a discussion forum to share ideas so the blockchain technology developed for healthcare has as many people and organizations developing and improving it as possible.

Blockchain cannot be adopted in healthcare if organizations are not communicating, working together, and preparing for it.

As blockchain continues to grow in healthcare, organizations and vendors need to lead their hands to projects to help blockchain develop into handling heavier data sets. Exchanging large data sets will severely increase interoperability and ease data exchange among organizations.

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