ASU blockchain research innovates the health care experience
Research collaboration with JennyCo aims to put users in control of their health data
In an always-evolving digital age, it is crucial to find ways to secure user data and protect online privacy. Research Professor Dragan Boscovic is exploring how to do so as the director of the ASU Blockchain Research Lab in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.
“Blockchain has three components — scalability, security and decentralization — and our goal is to find a proper balance between them for the given application,” says Boscovic, a faculty member in the computer science and engineering program in the Fulton Schools.
These tenets are driving one of the ASU Blockchain Research Lab’s newest research endeavors: using the blockchain to help secure and protect medical information through a novel app that has the potential to put patients in control of their health data. By collecting information on the blockchain, the app will help users around the world store their health records, make decisions about how the data can be used and receive personalized health recommendations.
“To be taken seriously in this industry, you need to increase the throughput on a specific network so it can handle hundreds of transactions per second,” Boscovic says. “To put it into perspective, Visa is handling 65,000 transactions per second, so our initial objective for research was to get into the thousands.”
Industry interest in collaborating with the ASU Blockchain Research Lab grew after its work with Dash, a digital currency for payments and e-commerce. That success led to collaborations with several companies, including Intel, Early Warning, Kudelski Security, BD, SRP, Threshold Network, Constellation Network, Helium Network and more. The work explores a wide variety of blockchain applications such as identity management, supply chain, inventory management and a concept called zero-knowledge proof, or how to uniquely identify a person without disclosing any personal information.
“The great thing about our work is that there is no one topic; everything we do identifies specific problems that our industry partners face and how to optimize the industrial workflow, which can be solved through decentralization,” Boscovic says.
In 2019, the lab began exploring how to translate blockchain research into health care. Manish Vishnoi, a Fulton Schools alumnus and former graduate student researcher for the Blockchain Research Lab, was focusing his master’s degree thesis on how people can maintain ownership of their medical data and only share it on a need-to-know basis with doctors, pharmacies and insurance providers. The lab took this research to the NuCypher + CoinList Spring Hackathon, winning the Community Choice Award.
Two years later, CEO Ben Jorgensen of Constellation Network — a company that develops scalable solutions for processing and transferring large data sets — gave an industry presentation to Boscovic’s student club, Blockchain at ASU. That gathering connected members of the lab with the network’s partner, JennyCo, a new company aiming to elevate the health care experience in the same way.
JennyCo seeks to enable consumers, large companies and brands to seamlessly share and access user data through a novel HIPAA-compliant blockchain service exchange managed by a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO.
According to JennyCo Founder and CEO Dr. Michael Nova, “Users of our app will be able to contribute their commerce, electronic health records, social, internet of things, device and any other health data and will receive personal AI-generated recommendations along with compensation.”
The goal of the app is to utilize blockchain technology to put users in control of their own health care data, which is a first-of-its-kind opportunity. In addition to data ownership, users who elect to store information on the app will have access to valuable health insights, AI-generated personalized recommendations for lifestyle changes and suggested wellness products, a community of other users to engage with and the opportunity to receive rewards through cryptocurrency tokens if they choose for their data to be used in research and product studies (users may also decline).
“Blockchain technology has the potential to transform health data, placing the patient at the center of the health care ecosystem and increasing security, privacy and interoperability,” Nova says. “In our collaboration on this project, Dr. Boscovic and his students have shown a deep understanding of the use cases we’ve presented and have smartly suggested system flows and technologies which will ultimately further our cause.”
Vishnoi, whose master’s degree thesis in part led to this collaboration, will continue his work with Boscovic and the ASU Blockchain Research Lab in his new role as a member of the JennyCo team, serving as its chief technology officer.
“JennyCo’s mission was really similar to the core principle of my thesis, so it felt like a natural fit,” he says. “If it’s your data, you should be the one in charge of it. You should know where it is being shared or who it is being shared with, and you should be the one who is rewarded for its use.”
Vishnoi says there is still work to do to get the app functioning and ready for next steps since blockchain is a very new technology.
“It requires a lot of research and planning, which is the phase we are in now with the Blockchain Research Lab,” Vishnoi says. “Currently, we’re brainstorming ideas for how we would like to implement blockchain and working through different solutions with Dr. Boscovic, and the students involved are creating proofs of concept. Health care data is very sensitive, so we’re committed to making sure what we implement is highly secure.”
In addition to the opportunities available to students in the lab, this collaboration is also funding the JennyCo Blockchain Scholarship Program to provide support for undergraduate and graduate students in the Fulton Schools, enabling them to gain exposure to blockchain technology.
ASU students can also look forward to a new online course focused on the blockchain data market to complement the existing Fulton Schools master’s degree program in computer science, in addition to guest lecture appearances by JennyCo executives.