I’ve been working for some time on understanding Blockchain, the operating system of the new digital era that is allowing us to migrate from the “internet of knowledge” to the “internet of value.”
I’d like to share with you in this blog post what I’ve been learning, and I will close with what I consider a very original and disruptive case of its use in the Biotechnology sector.
The Blockchain is a decentralized database that stores records of digital assets and transactions using a peer-to-peer network structure.
Such assets and transactions can be not only cryptocurrencies – such as Bitcoin, the first Blockchain – but also property deeds, individual identity documents, and records like medical histories, intellectual property titles, information obtained through the Internet of Things (IoT), etc.
One of the most important features of Blockchain is that it eliminates the hitherto necessary intermediation by a central authority, company or government to facilitate, formalize or validate a transaction. It completely replaces the human hand behind those intermediaries with technology through the functionality of smart contracts (in Blockchains such as Ethereum), which are self-executing and are making possible the decentralization of systems, processes and sectors.
Thus, any type of digital asset can be recognized, exchanged, stored, sold, transferred, etc., in an absolutely secure manner between the parties involved in the operations.
In this way, trust is distributed in a kind of huge ledger shared across millions of computers of private individuals whose data can neither be erased nor rewritten.
Blockchain uses cryptographic security mechanisms to access, sign and encrypt transactions, blocks and their chaining. There are certain nodes in the network – termed “full nodes” – that specialize in validating the transaction and executing consensus rules, cross-checking with other nodes.
Similarly, the security of the system is such that under the protection of this consensus/trust it is possible to trace an asset’s entire exchange or transaction history, thus preserving its originality from its point of origin to its destination.
About tokens and NFTs
A token is a cryptoasset that is executed on the blockchain of a cryptocurrency and is issued to perform specific functions in the digital world such as:
- Replicate the activities of the traditional financial system (loans, savings, insurance and exchanges) but in a peer-to-peer format.
- Have a voting capacity in decentralized organizations that have neither a board of directors nor any other central authority.
- Sell shares in a company (in much the same way that shares, or parts of shares, are sold in traditional markets) or undertake other ventures (e.g., real estate transactions) without the need for an intermediary.
- Represent ownership rights to a digital or physical asset that is unique, verifiable and monetizable, through NFTs: Non-Fungible Tokens. NFTs are impossible to merge with others of the same kind, as they are unique, rare and indivisible.
Blockchain: healthcare data in the patient’s hands
It turns out that, as patients, our health-related data is out of our hands. Rather, it is in those of different public and private institutions that do not communicate with each other. It is also scattered, even forgotten, and not consolidated in a single registry. On top of this, it is vulnerable to access and use by third parties without our consent.
Blockchain will allow each of us to be the true owners of our health profiles and medical histories throughout our lives through the tokenization of our health data. It won’t matter whether we have received care from the public health system, the region where, the medical specialty in question, whether we have received both public and private healthcare, we have been treated in other countries inside or outside the EU, or we are generating health data on our own thanks to devices that interact with our bodies and physical and mental activity through sensors, generating data.
All this precious information will be consolidated, private, verified, and placed in our hands thanks to Blockchain. In this way we will always have control over and knowledge of the diagnostic and clinical histories of our pathologies, so that we can responsibly manage them with different agents in the health chain. It will be us, as citizens, who will decide regarding access: who will get it, when, and how much. We will even be able to monetize our tokenized data when it is requested for scientific research and dissemination.
Estonia is the first EU country, and a pioneer in the world, in providing and applying Blockchain technology to its nationals for the management of their digital identities in all their interactions with the government, including their health services.
DAOs: the decentralization of organizations…also in healthcare
Cointelegraph defines Decentralized Autonomous Organizations – DAOs – as those created on the Internet and collectively owned and managed by all their members. They do not operate hierarchically. Rather, decisions are made by the collective, which operates transparently and verifiably through smart contracts on the Ethereum Blockchain. While traditional organizations must grapple with trust between people, which is tremendously difficult, with DAOs one must only trust the code.
In the health field, the first DAO I have come across is VitaDAO, which aims to develop decentralized medications governed by its community, currently made up of some 4,000 members. Their mission is to accelerate the research and development of active ingredients to extend longevity and life expectancy in therapeutic areas such as oncology and Alzheimer’s disease. They currently have 35 projects underway.
GenomesDao: tokenizing your DNA 🧬
The next company that caught my attention for its originality and creativity in communicating its value proposition is GenomesDao, a Web3 organization governed by a health DAO with which I have dealt personally as a user.
Its mission is to develop the world’s largest user-owned genomic databank, and secure the future of personalized medicine.
It is true that other companies, such as 23andMe and Ancestry, have been offering the general population access to their genetic data, but they do so by sequencing only 1-2% of the genome. The anonymized information from their databases is marketed by these companies to the Life Sciences industry…but the beneficiaries of this sale are the shareholders of these companies, not their individual users.
However, with GenomesDAO you get the complete sequencing of your genome through a test that decodes 100% of your DNA. And, because of its nature as a decentralized organization based on the Ethereum Blockchain, the user of its services will always be the sole owner of his genetic information, ensuring him the secure, private and auditable monetization of his 🧬.
Genomic data boasts enormous potential to reshape drug research and development by driving the paradigm shift towards the personalization of medicine. Why not, then, put it to use ourselves instead of third-party companies? Why not make individual use of the 🧬 that belongs only to us?
After decoding 100% of your DNA with GenomesDAO, the genetic information is protected in a vault featuring AMD-SEV ES technology, the most advanced encryption system. This way, only you will have total custody over your entire genome. No one will be able to access your DNA vault without your explicit permission – not even GenomesDAO itself. And it is then, through your vault, that you will also be able to mine (monetize) your tokenized genome by accepting or rejecting requests from pharmaceutical companies or biomedical research companies to access your DNA.
Moreover, by having your entire genome sequenced, you will be able to:
- Know your propensity to develop certain diseases
- Identify possible mutations that may affect the health of your children.
- Predict how your body will respond to a given pharmacological treatment
- Explore who your ancestors were through similarities between our DNA and that of populations around the world.
Alternatively, you can do this through their Geneticats NFTs project: a digital art collection limited to 975 unique and exclusive NFTs featuring cat images, and published for purchase on OpenSea – the largest non-fungible token sales portal. The single, base price is 0.19 Ethers ($549.47).
After acquiring a Geneticats NFT you have the right to redeem it for your complete genome sequencing kit. As with the first option, once 100% of your DNA has been sequenced, you will be able to secure and have full custody of it in your vault, so that from there you can mine your genomic information at your convenience.
The most novel part of this second way to participate in GenomesDAO is that, after asking you some questions about your genome, they will create a piece of generative contemporary art that is literally made of you, immortalized forever on the Ethereum Blockchain.
Your two DNA strands, on the Blockchain. Your most individual and unique self 🧬 expressed in NFT form.
I bought my NFT “kitty” last week for 0.22 Ethers. The image appears at the top of this blog post, and I have it listed in my personal OpenSea account. In about three weeks I will be able to redeem it for the genomic sequencing kit, and I’ll be sharing with you the personal experience of the whole process that I just described 🙌
This is a convergence of Blockchain and Biotechnology, delivering value to research companies, healthcare professionals and individuals, all in the interest of more personalized medicine. All this contributes to preventive health education and self-care for the general population while placing the patient at the center, with their health data in their hands. And, on top of all this, it is shared and promoted in a creative, very unique, and timely manner in a sector that is generally quite boring and flat in its communications.
New times are here, and unimaginable business models are emerging, driven by technologies that are rapidly transforming sectors that have traditionally shown aversion and resistance to change. One can either strive to understand what is happening, join the change, and surf the wave, being part of it … or end up being swallowed up by it.
I prefer to learn and take risks. As always. It’s more exciting.
By Ángel González