University of California Researchers Build Trial Blockchain Network For Sharing Clinical Data

A trio of researchers with the University of California San Francisco have developed a blockchain-based model for sharing clinical trial data between institutions. Their model not only protects the data but also makes the data traceable and immutable, according to a paper they wrote describing their work.

The paper, which was published in the journal Nature, outlines how they built a proof-of-concept web portal service using data from a real completed clinical trial. It notes that at present there are many levels at which such data could be intentionally falsified or accumulate errors, and that it remains difficult to track and access data across the complex network of data partners often involved in such trials.

To see if they could address these issues, the researchers created a prototype phase II clinical trial which would register all participating parties in a portal based on a private blockchain. In this model, all parties would be required to use the portal for any and all information exchanged related to the trial.

The research team used the data drawn from the closed real-world clinical trial to see how it would handle attempts to manipulate data or corruption or alteration of data in storage. They found that the blockchain was successful at checking and verifying data to prevent tampering, as well as detecting errors.

While the technical approach researchers took may have been successful, they admit that administrative drawbacks could make it hard to put into place in real-life conditions. “Forcing all participating parties to use a service like this will still remain a challenge,” they concede.

The researchers also acknowledge that while blockchain can incorporate data into structures that are immutable, traceablem and verifiable, it can’t protect against falsified data being introduced at the point of origin. To address this concern, trial participants would ideally see that raw forms of data or input be captured as early as possible into the blockchain.

All that being said, they suggest, a blockchain-based clinical trials system could be an improvement to current models, and what’s more, could be integrated into existing workflows with the use of a web-based platform such as the one they prototyped.

This research is just one of a number of projects exploring blockchain-based health data management. Expect to see both commercial healthcare ventures and research organizations roll out new blockchain-based information sharing the next couple of years. For example, earlier this year a group including health insurers, a bank and IBM Corp. announced that it was building out a blockchain-based “ecosystem.”

In addition, it’s likely that more organizations will pursue models that attempt to put the patient fully in charge of their health data, such as, a patient-directed health data exchange.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.