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Garvan Partners With Blockchain Startup for Genomic Records Management

CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – The Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has formed a strategic alliance with Australian startup E-Nome to explore how blockchain technology could be used to securely store genomic records in order to support medical research.

E-Nome has developed a medical records management platform for smartphones that allows individual patients to manage and control access to their own medical and genomic data. The company promises "watertight" security and privacy, thanks to blockchain technology.

"By bringing our blockchain-enabled platform to bear on genomic information and other health information, we seek to position the individual at the forefront of the development of precision medicine in Australia, and to help place Australia at the forefront of global medical research," E-Nome Founder and Chairman Nicholas Curtis said in a statement.

"We see huge potential for E-Nome's blockchain-enabled platform to radically enhance the security of genomic and other health information, to the benefit of both individuals and medical research," added Garvan Executive Director John Mattick. "We are entering the transformative era of precision health in which an individual's genomic information, in combination with other health records, will directly inform their lifestyle choices, their genetic risks of developing disease and the best ways to reduce those risks."

Mattick further noted that new insights into diseases and their possible treatments will be made possible in coming years from researchers comparing millions of genomes and combining the data with other health information. "It is our responsibility, therefore, to actively pursue next-generation approaches that can safeguard the unique genomic information of individuals while making it available for research to improve healthcare," he said.

The partnership may have a steep hill to climb. Adoption of personal health records has been spotty, save for those tightly tied to a health system's electronic health record. Likewise, actual usage of any blockchain technology in life science research and clinical practice so far has been rare.

"It is more of a potential," Kamaljit Behera, an industry analyst in the Visionary Healthcare Program at consulting and research firm Frost & Sullivan told GenomeWeb in August. Some pharmaceutical and medical device companies have completed proof-of-concept studies of blockchain technology, but as far as Behara knows, nothing has been commercialized yet.

What blockchain-based genomic records might offer is more precision than earlier iterations of personal health records. For example, a startup in Portland, Oregon, called Healthcoin aims to support employer and insurer wellness programs by rewarding healthy behaviors based on biomarkers from blood tests — hemoglobin A1c, HDL cholesterol, and blood pressure — rather than adjunct metrics like steps and other physical activity, with the goal of preventing diabetes.