By Amy Maxmen
Dexter Hadley thinks that artificial intelligence (AI) could do a far better job at detecting breast cancer than doctors do — if screening algorithms could be trained on millions of mammograms. The problem is getting access to such massive quantities of data. Because of privacy laws in many countries, sensitive medical information remains largely off-limits to researchers and technology companies.
So Hadley, a physician and computational biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, is trying a radical solution. He and his colleagues are building a system that allows people to share their medical data with researchers easily and securely — and retain control over it. Their method, which is based on the blockchain technology that underlies the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, will soon be put to the test. By May, Hadley and his colleagues will launch a study to train their AI algorithm to detect cancer using mammograms that they hope to obtain from between three million and five million US women.
The team joins a growing number of academic scientists and start-ups who are using blockchain to make sharing medical scans, hospital records and genetic data more attractive — and more efficient. Some projects will even pay people to use their information. The ultimate goal of many teams is to train AI algorithms on the data they solicit using the blockchain systems.
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