In January, IBM Watson Health established
a partnership with the FDA to define a secure, efficient and scalable exchange
of health data using blockchain technology, with an initial focus on
oncology-related data. IBM and the FDA are exploring the exchange of owner-mediated
data from several sources, such as electronic medical records, clinical trials,
genomic data and health data from mobile devices, wearables and the Internet of
In 2016, IBM and the New York Genome Center partnered to create
a comprehensive and open repository of genetic data to accelerate cancer
research and scale access to precision medicine using Watson, IBM’s artificial
intelligence (AI) system.
According to Ebadollahi, the CDC will issue a more detailed
announcement about the partnership with Watson Health. The CDC is working on
several proofs of concept based on blockchain technology, and plans to build
real DLT applications for the public health sector next year, as recently reported
by MIT Technology Review.
“Public health and blockchain [technology] really do belong
together,” said Jim Nasr, chief software architect at the CDC’s Center for
Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services. “Moving that data from one
peer to another in a secure manner, in a compliant manner and in a transparent
manner — as quickly as possible — is a key part of the business model.”
Nasr added that DLT could give the CDC a way to store and share
health data much faster while complying with security and privacy laws, which
could be especially important during a public health crisis like a pandemic.
Ebadollahi and IBM’s Chief Health Officer Kyu Rhee elaborated on
the possibilities of combining blockchain and AI technologies — two strategic
technologies that IBM is vigorously pursuing — for enabling healthcare
providers to deliver more effective services. The new services would use DLT to
securely manage and share data and AI to extract actionable information and
patterns from the data.
“When a bunch of physicists collaborated and created this thing
called the World Wide Web a few decades ago, nobody imagined Facebook and
Google and Amazon,” said Ebadollahi. “With blockchain [technology] we can
collect data and extract insights through AI, and the future will have an
economy around that we can hardly even imagine right now.”
According to Rhee, AI is where the internet was in 1993, and AI
applications in healthcare will see momentous growth in the next decades. In
Rhee’s estimation, the amount of research and clinical data in the healthcare
sector is exploding, and no unaided specialist can keep up.
“Blockchain [technology] is very useful when there are so many
actors in the system,” said Ebadollahi. “It enables the ecosystem of data in healthcare
to have more fluidity.”