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Empowering healthcare and clinical research with blockchain technology

Dr. Ruchi Dana and Blockchain for better healthcare

Dr. Ruchi Dana is a medical doctor and a Stanford MBA graduate based in Dubai who invests in healthcare through their family office. As a family of doctors with a hospital and a nursing college in India, they make a lot of direct investments in healthcare. Dr Dana sees huge potential for blockchain in healthcare, and invests accordingly

Investments in blockchain applications for healthcare

A couple of years ago, Dr Dana’s family office invested in a UK-based company that was trying to put genetic data on a marketplace so individuals can own their data. As the prices of genome testing are reducing over time, it will be available to almost everybody in future. But right now, it’s so expensive that it’s very difficult for consumers to go for their own human genome testing. 

‘The start-up we invested in incentivises customers to share their data with pharmacies, scientists and clinical research organisations while giving them full authority over their data. Their data is private, and it’s for them to decide who they want to share it with. And if they do, they receive incentives in the form of discounts or the like,’ she explains.

Dr Dana is passionate about furthering clinical research of rare conditions. ‘There’s a lot of pharmaceutical companies that are actually looking for data to serve a purpose such as finding treatment or cures for rare genetic disorders. Such a genetic marketplace would provide the data – even microbiome data – to provide a holistic medical picture of a person that can help save lives.’ 

Other powerful use cases of blockchain technology in healthcare

The potential she sees for utilising blockchain to further health care doesn’t end there. ‘We recently invested in a company that’s based on advanced therapies. Advanced therapies, or precision medicine, is the next big thing in healthcare.’

The company, which she decides not to name, has a cell orchestration platform to help scale production capabilities in precision medicine. ‘It’s extremely difficult to scale production in this industry, and also very expensive. If you don’t have trust in your data and the entire chain of custody, it becomes really difficult to prevent mistakes,’ Dr Dana points out. To address this challenge, the company is using a blockchain-based platform that integrates data from the clinical research organisations, hospitals, labs and then finally, the patients as well to minimise the chances of error.

Dr Dana sees digital health records as another significant use case for blockchain. ‘Whether you’re talking about the COVID-19 vaccine or any other immunisation, it’s critical for individuals to keep track of their records. There’s huge potential for making digital health records available to patients, not just because it’s difficult to remember your medical history, but because people are travelling more frequently,’ she elaborates. With increased and fluctuating travel restrictions relating to medical history, it’s not difficult to grasp the need to access your records at all times. 

‘The big risk of digital health records is to secure such sensitive data. But with the help of blockchain, patients can own their own data and be the only ones to share access permission,’ she adds. The blockchain model thus prevents data ‘honeypots’, where millions or billions of records can be compromised by a single breach. 

When it comes to some of the COVID-19 vaccines, where patients have to receive a second shot within three to four weeks, Dr Dana views paper records as a risk. ‘If people have nothing but a piece of paper to attest to their vaccine history, it could get lost and compromise the entire treatment. Things like these can be avoided with the help of digital health records, and blockchain will take that to a new level, giving people the authority to own their own data.’

Another powerful use case she identifies for blockchain in healthcare is to fight counterfeit drugs. ‘Drug counterfeiting is a big industry, specifically with generic drugs but even with branded drugs. In emerging countries these counterfeit drugs are sold without things like an expiration date or the origin. Blockchain is ideal for supply chain operations, which goes for drug supply chains as well.’ 

Dr Dana has observed similar challenges in the organ donation process. ‘Knowing the precise source of an organ and being able to match it up with matching recipients from different hospitals makes a huge difference to the entire workflow. Blockchain applications like smart contracts and supply chain applications can make a huge difference in getting organs to their optimal recipients in time.’

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