Mount Sinai debuts biomedical blockchain research center

Hospitals don’t want to be left behind in the rush to harness Big Data, and blockchain has been touted as a possible answer to the twin challenges of interoperability and data security.

By 2020, one in five healthcare organizations will have moved beyond the pilot stage to use blockchain for operations management and patient identification, according to a recent IDC report. The rise of FHIR and open APIs also creates opportunities for the technology to support sharing and distribution of clinical data.

In addition to partnering with companies on projects, the center plans to develop and test its own blockchain systems within the Mount Sinai health system.

Potential use cases include drug development, clinical trials, increasing access to health insurance in underserved markets, improving quality control in the drug industry to reduce counterfeiting and making it easier to reproduce research.

“There is a lot of excitement around the possibilities for blockchain technology in health care,” Dudley said in a press release. “However, we still have lots of hard work ahead to identify the most salient features of blockchain technologies to solve real-world health care problems.”

Dudley’s research focuses on the use of data-driven approaches and machine learning to tackle biological problems, including development of predictive applications from EHRs and wearables. Zimmerman’s work involves designing data-driven tools to improve healthcare decision-making.

He also co-founded a venture-backed health IT startup and served as a data science lead at Pivotal Software.

Dudley said early applications could arise from areas where current systems and methods fall short.

Other healthcare organizations are also looking at ways to harness data. In May, Cleveland Clinic launched a biorepository in collaboration with Brooks Automation.

The 21,000-square-foot facility will house human tissue samples for use in research into a variety of conditions, including cancer, heart disease and epilepsy. The goal is to boost the capacity of the clinic’s existing biobank and accelerate research from bench to bedside via a streamlined patient consent process and centralized storage.

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