How Blockchain Technology Can Accelerate Stem Cell Research
The 10 Transformational Leaders in Healthcare Vol. 2
Stem cells are a unique type of multicell found in the body. They are undifferentiated and capable of developing into different types of cells. This means that they have the potential to regenerate, repair, and replenish other cells in the body. Stem cell research is focused on the use of stem cells for the treatment of illness and injury. While still in its infancy, there is tremendous potential for stem cell technology to improve the quality of life for many.
Already, breakthroughs in stem cell research span the gamut. The most successful and established stem cell therapies have been done with bone marrow transplants, first performed over 40 years ago. Since then, further developments have been made. There are now many stem cell therapies available or under development around the world, such as immune system therapies, CHO cell and hybridomas, neural stem cell therapies, mammary epithelial cell therapies, prostate epithelial cell therapies, pulmonary stem cell research, intestinal stem cell research, and more.
Challenges Parallel Those of Early Cancer Research
Despite the strides that have been made in our knowledge of stem cells and their application for human welfare, there remains two issues 1) a pressing need for further research and development across a vast array of medical conditions that impact millions of people around the world. 2) There is also an issue with linking patients in need of stem cell treatments with the doctors who have the best knowledge relating to their needs.
The difficulties in stem cell research are similar to those that plagued cancer research a few decades ago. There isn’t an adequate infrastructure for sharing information about research to ensure patients always receive the best treatment for their situation. A similar lack of infrastructure for maximizing collective knowledge characterizes global stem cell research.
A Blockchain Solution
One of the most significant applications for blockchain technology is in making collective knowledge accessible. This quality makes it well-suited for use in medical and health research contexts. Stem Cell Innovations (SCI) is working to create a unique platform that brings together stem cell knowledge and blockchain technology. SCI has existed since 2013 as a network of researchers, expert medical professionals, investors, and engineers hoping to expand access to stem cell research and treatment knowledge around the world. Now it is taking advantage of blockchain technology to further this goal.
There are three significant aspects of SCI’s plan. First, it will use blockchain to create a collaborative network for players in the stem cell industry to facilitate the transmission of research and development around the world. The system will be able to continuously maintain and refine this collective knowledge based on clinical results and the latest research. In this sense, SCI hopes to achieve with stem cell treatment what has been achieved in regards to cancer research.
However, SCI has plans to go beyond this as well. The second significant aspect of its blockchain network is it will also function as a patient health information storage ledger. Data will be stored on the SCI blockchain and users can control which information doctors and medical organizations can access. This means patients can be connected to doctors around the world and share with them the relevant aspects of their health information. This service would everyone in the world benefit from the latest stem cell research.
The third significant aspect is SCI project is cord blood banking. The best stem cells are found in “cord blood”. This is blood found in the umbilical cord immediately after birth. Cord blood banking (also known as stem cell banking) is the process of collecting cord blood and cryogenically freezing its stem cells. Being able to collect and store that blood for future use is a growing trend in medicine.
Stem cell banking allows parents to safeguard their children against possible medical issues in the future by ensuring they have access to their pure stem cells if needed. However, the complexity and cost of current stem cell banking options present many barriers to almost all parents who would want to take advantage of this medical technology. SCI plans to offer stem cell banking through an application ecosystem. Using its app parents will be able to sign up for stem cell storage, order a collection kit, and schedule courier pickup through one secure platform.
SCI plans to run on dual blockchain platforms. The first will be built on an Ethereum base powered by the ERC20 platform. The second blockchain will be custom built by SCI engineers specifically for storing and processing patient stem cell records. This customized blockchain will be known as SCIChain and will use the Hyperledger Fabric network. It will be designed to use smart contracts to protect user data and ensure only authorized individuals have access to it.
The potential of stem cell treatment is enormous, but like the early days of cancer researcher, the science is being held back by a lack of sufficient knowledge sharing. SCI plans to provide the technological infrastructure to change that. However, more than this it will take advantage of the security and transparency of blockchain data storage to allow patients to connect with doctors and share knowledge relevant to their condition, but they can also control when and how much of their personal health information to share. From my perspective, the cord blood banking services is just an add on to these more fundamental services.