Future Clinical Trials Point to Blockchain Adoption

Lianne E. Brown • December 12, 2022

Blockchain. Maybe the hottest word to enter the tech lexicon in the past decade. Aside from being a somewhat confusing concept for those who don’t interact with the technology on a regular basis, it has introduced an entirely new world of how individuals interact with and access information, data and resources across the world. While most of us have a peripheral knowledge of blockchain in terms of crypto and read news articles about the newest way to own and participate in financial markets, the implications of using blockchain technology in the healthcare space is much more niche and entirely more interesting, specifically in clinical trials.  

Foundational to such a conversation is an understanding of what the phrase “decentralized clinical trial” really means. Dr. Alex Cahana, blockchain expert and physician, explains that in referencing a decentralized clinical trial, individuals often misassign the meaning of decentralization or even confuse the concept. He clarifies that a decentralized clinical trial refers to the organization, management, and governance of the data itself, rather than the “location” or centralization of the trial. This, conceptually, allows researchers conducting clinical trials to engage with technology solutions to manage and disseminate information to study participants more efficiently, and potentially more accurately, when collecting their data. Centralization is attack vulnerable, collusion vulnerable and far easier to manipulate. Whenever things are done behind closed doors, there is risk. Inherent to decentralization, is a much more secure and hack-resistant way to collect, store and share information.  

Another interesting implication of a decentralized clinical trials system has to do with diversity, equity and inclusion. Traditional clinical trials have historically included more white, male participants and excluded diverse groups and vulnerable populations. By creating a model that allows for increased access, it leaves opportunity to introduce a more inclusive environment for diverse participants during the lifecycle of a study. In the same way that crypto tokens, theoretically, can allow for more direct involvement in the economic experience, this decentralized model could be a vehicle for participants to have real ownership in the experience of a clinical trial.  

These innovations have pushed us into a new iteration of the internet referred to as web 3.0. A version of the web that allows users to be interactively involved with the experience. Through this token-based structure, it is easier to see how the data we put into the ether still belongs to us. We own our piece of the experience. In this same vein, moving towards a decentralized model for clinical trials could overhaul the way we think about and conduct the important studies that generate meaningful therapeutics and lifesaving medicine. The concept is fairly easy to accept, and with the help of experts like Dr. Cahana the industry can focus on widespread education for the future of this space.   

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