Is Nano Vision's drive for better healthcare research using AI and blockchain a field of dreams?

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles August 7, 2018
Nano Vision is building a global, decentralized blockchain platform for healthcare researchers and others to share data and accelerate cures and breakthroughs. Will researchers use it?

field of dreams
Healthcare research is an expensive and risky business, bedevilled by complexity and corporate issues. Nanovision hopes to change that using a combination of AI and blockchain technologies. Will they succeed in what appears to be a 'field of dreams' venture?

The National Institute of Health alone provides about $32.3 billion of grants each year spread out over hundreds of institutions. Thousands of foundations, philanthropists, and private companies contribute additional billions.

Billions more dollars are spent on clinical trials, but over 90% of them end in failure. The every-man-for-himself system is fragmented and inefficient. Experts say the failure to share data slows down progress on finding cures for many of society’s more urgent medical conditions, like cancer, tuberculosis, zika, malaria and fast developing Superbugs.

Steve Papermaster, a career technology entrepreneur who has taken many paths over his 30-year career as a CEO, author and public policy expert--including a stint as senior advisor to President George W. Bush on domestic and global strategy for innovation, technology and science--believes the system is badly broken. Said Papermaster:

The way things are now isn't working. We're spending trillions of dollars every year for medical care, we're donating and spending billions of dollars on research each year, and we're not seeing the results that we should be.  Critical data is siloed in individual institutions and governments around the world holding back both research breakthroughs and patient outcomes, when it should be widely shared and improved upon for collective progress.

Why is healthcare research so broken?

There are many reasons healthcare research is not shared widely.

Much of the research is driven by companies looking for new “products,” so they set the priorities based on the highest potential financial return. For example, dementia is projected to affect 82 million people worldwide, and cost over $800 billion annually--that’s 1% of the world’s GDP.

And yet, big companies like Pfizer are dropping Alzheimer’s research while prioritizing lower risk and lucrative drugs like Viagra.  A single IT infrastructure for sharing doesn’t exist because of the tremendous variance in computer systems. There is also the problem of privacy and government regulation of sensitive data.

Papermaster, CEO and Chairman of startup Nano Vision, believes his company has found the solution to most of these problems:  a blockchain-based, decentralized, peer-to-peer network that collects human molecular data and resources and makes that data accessible to healthcare researchers and even “citizen scientists” around the globe.

The main elements of the Nano Vision Cure Chain are:

Cure Chain

The Nano Vision blockchain platform aims to provide scientists around the world a common database and facilitate an effective and collaborative approach essential for real-time studies on ever evolving diseases. Its goal is to remove restrictions and borders and help researchers collaborate on finding solutions to combat the world’s most pressing healthcare problems, while still receiving credit for their contributions. Shared data will be tagged with the contributor’s information, meaning that they will receive credit and compensation whenever their research is accessed or used to create a health solution.

The platform gathers real-time data from institutions all over the world and shares it in a blockchain, rendering it universally accessible and traceable.  Distributed ledger technology developed by Nano is used to secure and attribute all Nano platform data to its correct, original source.  Said Papermaster:

It was important that we use blockchain within the cure development process because it empowers the entire global community to share valuable and costly data. The basic tenants of blockchain, where you have immutable data, which drives trust on decentralized ledgers, which capture immutable data around where content was captured, who captured it, who touched it, what the chain of activity was from inception into continuous use--all that is a fundamental change in the model of sharing data.

It is a tool that connects everybody. Not just a small subset of people--everyone. Because of that, blockchain enabled decentralized research enables acceleration of developing cures to diseases.

Nano Sense Chip 

Nano Global, a subdivision of Nano Vision, has partnered with Arm, the world’s leading semiconductor IP company, to design and produce Nano Sense chips, tiny chips that can fit on a pinhead in a huge array of medical and research environments, where they collect and store data molecular-level data in the blockchain. This blockchain data is instantly accessible.

Inference Engine

The Nano Sense platform includes a machine learning AI program that constantly sorts and analyzes data to look for trends and complimentary data sets. Because it uses a machine learning protocol, it becomes more sophisticated the more data it analyzes. This means that the AI will be able to identify critical data trends and draw conclusions, helping to generate breakthroughs.  The AI will ultimately be able to predict new trends and areas of collaboration for future healthcare research, drawing connections that ordinary human searchers might never find in such an immense amount of data.

Nano Cure Coin

To incentivize data sharing, the Nano Sense chips will mint Nano cryptocurrencies as they collect, store, and analyze data. The currencies can be bought and sold like other cryptos, and owners can even use them to allocate funds to research activities that are particularly important to them.

Papermaster summarizes Nano Vision’s goal like this:

The game changer for us in this platform is to enable thousands, hundreds of thousands of other healthcare developers, scientists, researchers, biotech companies, pharma companies to use the services, which is the data itself powered from the chip up and the gathering capability on to the level of simplified services, so that those smart, talented teams can actually go develop their own versions of cures to tens of thousands of disease states and sickness and even general wellness capability that don’t exist today.

My take

It’s easy to be skeptical about a company that seems to touch every hot enterprise software buzzword of the moment—blockchain, AI, machine learning, nanotechnology, IoT sensors But Nano Vision has a clear and important social purpose and backing from Mark Cuban and Softbank Vision Fund so we hope they succeed.

It seems to me that its major challenges will not be from the technology side but from the healthcare research culture of secrecy and proprietary thinking.  The company will need to build a strong network of prominent institutions who are willing to share their data from the start.  I’m not convinced that rewarding sharers with cryptocurrency tokens is enough of an incentive to do it.

The privacy issue could be a thorny one too but probably not impossible to overcome

It seems to me that Nano Vision has the same dilemma as Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams.”  If you build it, will they come?

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