The incorporation of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology into healthcare and medicine is critical to increasing human longevity.
The average newborn’s life expectancy has increased by nearly 20 years in the last 60 years, from 52.5 to 72 as of 2018. In this period, we have witnessed an incredible wave of technological innovation: The advent of the internet, medical breakthroughs, and a better understanding of public health initiatives have altered the course of human history. And, with new technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence now taking center stage, we know that even more radical change is on the way. These game-changing technologies are paving the way for longer and healthier lives.
To demonstrate how far healthcare has come as a result of these technologies, I’d like to highlight a case study of two distinct companies, Insilico Medicine and Longenesis. They demonstrate how the advancement of AI for medical care has progressed in tandem with the emergence of blockchain healthcare applications.
Healthcare based on data
Alex Zhavoronkov, a longevity innovator, and his company, Insilico Medicine, contacted me in 2014. The company was founded on a simple but radical premise: use artificial intelligence to accelerate drug discovery and development. At the time, AI was still in its infancy, both in terms of public awareness and medical applications. However, in the seven years since I invested in this company, AI has completely transformed research and development in the therapeutics sector. Its rapid discovery and development of new therapies is due to the massive amount of data it processes in search of the next best cure. This data is rich in source and scope, coming from the genomic and proteomic sequences of actual healthcare patients. They have demonstrated tremendous potential in using AI for data-driven healthcare through dozens of new drug candidates.
However, Insilico’s groundbreaking progress was not without challenges. Working with massive amounts of data presented unique centralization and security challenges. Data in healthcare is often dispersed and siloed. Each doctor, medical center, and hospital has its own silo, and data is typically only shared when necessary for patient care due to privacy regulations. Access to synthesized patient data was critical for the success of Insilico’s AI algorithms, but it simply wasn’t available.
Blockchain technology and privacy
Alex and the team at Insilico Medicine discovered blockchain and distributed ledger technology while looking for solutions to the security and centralization concerns associated with this type of data. The immutability of blockchain entries, as well as the ability for multiple decentralized nodes to contribute data to a shared ledger, provided a solution to the complex problems associated with patient data. This technology was exactly what they were looking for, but they needed a partner to help them build it. Insilico formed a joint venture with leading European blockchain company Bitfury (now one of the continent’s largest emerging technology companies) to form Longenesis. The goal of Longenesis was clear: to build a blockchain healthcare ecosystem that took into account the sensitive requirements of health data as well as the application needs of biotech research.
Longenesis created a blockchain-based environment for healthcare/biotech stakeholders such as patient organizations, biomedical research groups, and research partners and sponsors. The beauty of Longenesis’ solution is that consent is always recorded. When patients agree to share their data for any reason, there is irreversible proof of their consent.
Curator, its first product, is used by hospitals and other care organizations to safely and compliantly present data to researchers without jeopardizing patient privacy. This function enables researchers to review datasets without jeopardizing patient information security. When a researcher or company wants to use the data, Longenesis’ second product Engage makes it available. Engage also enables hospitals and researchers to quickly enroll patients in new medical trials and research, while also recording ongoing patient consent. Whether AI is used to analyze new data from a medical trial or “old” data from medical records, patients are aware of it and can choose to consent at their leisure. Longenesis has implemented this solution in state hospitals, government biobanks, and other locations. Its work enables AI firms like Insilico Medicine to gain access to massive amounts of data that can be used for artificial intelligence analysis, resulting in even more treatment and drug discovery.
Data, blockchain, and human longevity are all intertwined.
While I have highlighted two companies in this article, there are thousands of outstanding startups, research institutions, and physicians working tirelessly to improve human longevity. They could all benefit from blockchain-unlocked data and artificial intelligence’s analytical power.
The average hospital generates 760 terabytes of data per year, but 80 percent of this valuable data is unstructured and therefore inaccessible to researchers. It must be kept secure, and patients must provide ongoing consent for its use. This schism is impeding progress in all aspects of medicine. The combination of blockchain and AI can unlock this data for analysis, facilitate patient consent, track clinical data usage, and much more.
Without blockchain, artificial intelligence is unable to find new solutions because it lacks ethically sourced and protected biomedical data. Without artificial intelligence, the vast amounts of data secured by blockchain remain secure but inaccessible for research. When these innovations work together, progress is made, just as critical public health initiatives in previous decades were made possible by the advent of the World Wide Web. Then, our goal must be to bring these technologies to market more fully, so that longevity-focused care is available to all.