Hackernoon logoDNA is Worth Billions. How Blockchain Helps to Securely Store Medical Data by@hellyellie

DNA is Worth Billions. How Blockchain Helps to Securely Store Medical Data

Alena Kalionava Hacker Noon profile picture

Alena Kalionava

25 y.o. tech-lover

Biological and medical science experienced a real breakthrough when the DNA structure was decoded in 1953.

DNA is a macromolecule that stores and transfers essential information about living beings, i.e. the genetic code. Francis Crick and James Watson, the scientists who described the double helix of this biopolymer, received the 1962 Nobel Prize, nine years after the discovery.

Could they know at that time that their achievement would be the object of cyber-theft after half a century?

Genetic passport

Simply put, DNA is a sequence of molecules (nucleotides) where the genome information is stored in the form of a certain code.

DNA is a carrier and transmitter of heredity from skin color and eye shape to specific diseases that were transferred from parents. The unique code contained in the molecule is examined to determine relationship, diagnose numerous diseases and even identify criminals in forensic studies. This is just a small part of the use cases for research in the field of biology and anthropology.

A DNA sample contains valuable information, especially for those trying to impersonate somebody else since technically, DNA personalizes a person as the passport, driver’s license, or account number.

Any medical or genetic information from your DNA is a way to identify your personality

DNA technology is developing at an increasing rate every year. While initially the sequencing (decoding) service was expensive (the first full decoding of human genome cost the US taxpayers $2.7 billion), now hundreds of companies can do it at a reasonable price. The technology has progressed to the point where anyone can buy a portable sequencer (no bigger than an ordinary USB drive), which connects to a laptop and makes the process of DNA decoding simple.

Genomic bank: A safe without a code

There are DNA databases, genomic banks, and storages in many countries that are used to study diseases, search for cancer treatment drugs, and carry out many other types of research. The amount of processed and stored genetic information is estimated at hundreds of petabytes [1 petabyte is 1 million gigabytes] per year, and the growth rates are nearly exponential. There is a risk that a part of the data stored on the centralized servers can be compromised by hackers and the information has become vulnerable. According to the IBM Security research, the damage costs due to theft of medical data in the United States almost has reached $6.2 billion per year. This is related to the expense and reputation of the hospital administration and the insurers’ payments. The number of leak cases and their costs increase annually.

Not many people fully understand the potential damage of this leak because you typically don’t think of DNA the same way you think of your credit card or even an Apple ID password. Any medical or genetic information from your DNA is a way to identify your personality.

Regarding DNA, evidently your sample is unique and valuable. It is worth protecting for future generations in the form of a protected code.

Helixes, chains, blocks

Remember that DNA is a coded sequence. It is an encrypted chain. It reminds you of something, doesn’t it? It reminds you of blockchain technology, that rapidly captures new spheres of our lives, offering panacea for all our problems. In the case of the genetic helix, blockchain and DNA have much in common. Safety, integrity, and transparency — all these can be provided when storing the genome data in the decentralized network of blocks.

In blockchain, information is not placed on a single centralized server. It is distributed throughout the network. The non-authorized persons cannot read, change (including retroactively), or steal the encrypted data as unauthorized transactions are impossible. When applying blockchain technology to the healthcare industry, only patients and their doctors or clinics have access to it without any intermediaries. The faster the blockchain network grows, the more secure and transparent the healthcare system becomes.

At a time when all types of information can be hacked and compromised, confidentiality and the protection of patients’ personal records, medical history, and especially DNA become a real concern for the health authorities and medical institutions around the world. Though the blockchain is not actively used for healthcare purposes worldwide, such projects thrive in the western countries.

American companies are optimistic about the technology and implementing blockchain in healthcare. David R. Koepsell, a founder of Encrypgen, the platform that stores, protects, and transfers genetic data, stated,

All of this [blockchain] will mean a real revolution in genomic science, as well as provide donors of data with greater protection than ever. Blockchain also enables a lot of that functionality because one of its strengths, besides extremely strong encryption, is managing transactions.

The leak of DNA or a patient’s case history is more serious than it may appear at first glance. DNA can unveil the genealogy and diseases or even predict how many years will a person live. It is the largest and most vulnerable data storage.

With all of the risks pertaining to the medical data, blockchain might become a savior. With it, the patient will be put in the driver’s seat. No matter where you live, all you need is access to the Internet to be able to secure your data and medical records using blockchain technology. Luckily, the Internet is everywhere.

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