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Blockchain in Genomics

Last Updated : 08 Jul, 2022
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Using genomic datasets, researchers try to extract information about the molecular mechanisms of human disease, which can help identify disease-specific mutations. The human genome consists of about 3 billion base pairs. Some genetic diseases are rare, and even some common diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, etc have genetic sensitivity. Therefore datasets require specific infrastructure and pipelines for processing. However, the increase in genetic data has also brought some problems, including data access, security, and privacy. So researchers take the help of blockchain to solve this problem and perform operations on data easily.

Introduction to Genomics

Genomics is a special field of biology that deals with the structure, function, evolution, mapping, and editing of genomes. 

  • A genome is a complete set of genetic information(also known as DNA) in an organism. 
  • Genomics also involves the sequencing and analysis of genomes through the use of bioinformatics and high throughput DNA sequencing to assemble and analyze the function and structure of entire genomes. 

Blockchain in Genomics

Blockchain technology has enormous potential to build the systems of the future and shape the medical world in new ways. A blockchain is a digital, decentralized public ledger designed to record every data on its network. Blockchain is widely deployed in various sectors, such as finance, education, healthcare, etc.

  • Blockchain technology may be new, but it is already playing a major role in healthcare, especially in genomic medicine. 
  • As the technology becomes more widely used in genomics, Scientists will be able to gain a deeper understanding of disease mechanisms. 
  • This knowledge will help scientists develop better therapies and interventions for a variety of diseases while maintaining privacy and security.

Why Blockchain in Genomics?

Below are some of the points to understand why blockchain is useful in genomics:

  • Genomic Data Security: Genomics data is very sensitive and crucial, from a data security perspective, blockchain provides excellent data security and integrity. Security methods such as encryption are useful in combating data breaches, but they do not provide complete protection. Many systems of big organizations with the highest level of security are penetrated by hackers. However, blockchain technology helps organizations by providing better protection against data breaches. Blockchain uses hashing techniques to store data securely, which helps the company in securing data and also helps in data sharing.
  • Genomic Data Sharing: Using genomic data and the blockchain network, it is now possible to send anonymous genetic information around the world. The decentralization nature of blockchain allows easy and secure data exchange between organizations. Information can be stored in a special ledger in a blockchain database that keeps the information secure.
  • Immutability of genomic data: Blockchain provides immutability of genomic data for organizations, helping organizations protect information. Due to the decentralized structure of blockchain technology, genomic data cannot be modified, so any changes will be reflected on all nodes, so no one cheats here, and it can be said that genomic data sharing is very safe.
  • Efficiency: The organization uses blockchain technology for efficiency reasons, as blockchain eliminates any third-party interference between genomic data sharing and errors, making the system more efficient and faster. As a result, sharing data becomes easier, smoother, and faster.
  • Cost Reduction: Since blockchain does not require a third person, it reduces costs for organizations and gives trust to other partners. Before blockchain technology, organizations spends lots of money, as they have to hire a third person to maintain all the things which blockchain technology does.

Why Blockchain Technology Suitable For Bioinformatics and Healthcare Applications?

Blockchain plays an important role in bioinformatics and health applications as it reduces the cost of analysis in genomics and health applications.

  • Transactions of data on blockchain systems are faster and more efficient than traditional processes.
  • The biggest advantage of the blockchain is that the data recorded in the central system can be manipulated, while the data in the blockchain cannot be manipulated. Since it is a distributed system, every data transaction with the blockchain becomes more transparent and traceable.
  • Blockchain prevents fraud and unauthorized activity better than other systems.

Why Blockchain Technology Not Suitable For Bioinformatics and Healthcare Applications?

  • In genomics and healthcare, the biggest problem is that people don’t want to share the raw data directly because, with the help of entire genome data, people can be detected and information about their ancestry can be obtained.
  • In blockchain transactions, data is stored in its hash value rather than the original data.
  • Neither current nor blockchain-based genomics and healthcare systems can provide complete anonymity until people use wearable devices to obtain their own analysis results.

Current Trends in Blockchain-Based Systems in Genomics

Let’s take a look at the era of blockchain-based systems to better understand current trends. According to the NLM (National Library of Medicine) paper, the era of blockchain-based systems in genomics is divided into three eras, as follows: 

1. Proof of Concept Era (From 2016 To 2018): Since the blockchain concept is new to the field in this era, the proposed application requires core development. The main goal of this era is to provide an efficient application to prove that the blockchain platform can be used for health management systems. In this era, blockchain platforms have:

  • Include genomic data sharing and EHR sharing, while in other era research are conducted only for EHR sharing.
  • In this era, the detailed architecture of the blockchain-based healthcare system was designed, while in other eras, the proposed method integrated other technologies into the system by reducing the blockchain part over time.

2. Blockchain Development Era (From 2019 To 2020): In this era, complex cloud-based and encryption-based applications are mainly proposed. The main research areas during this period were:

  • The research focuses on designing a blockchain-based healthcare system, as in the first era.
  • The research focus is not on disease prediction and patient monitoring methods, but on the use of various cryptographic techniques in the system to increase the security of the system, the implementation of blockchain-enabled modules, and evaluation of performance.

3. Blockchain As a Platform Era (From 2021 To Present Day): In this era, blockchain is converted into a platform that has additional AI-based algorithms running on the blockchain platform. This period can be considered the first period in building a data ecosystem using blockchain technology. The main research areas during this period were:

  • The research focus is on the development of a blockchain-based healthcare system with patient monitoring and disease prediction capabilities.
  • Artificial intelligence methods have been integrated into the system to pay more attention to these issues and evaluate the performance of the system from this perspective.

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