Wong’s blockchain-built system could eliminate the chances of data mishaps that may occur during the process of clinical trials

Buzzwords: Clinical trials, The Big Bang, Civil War-era photos and 5G applications

Image credit: Dreamstime

Words such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and IoT tend to ‘buzz’ in your brain. What is happening in the world for them to become such a hype?


Could blockchain ensure integrity of clinical trial data?

We live in a world where some individuals like to access data and tamper with it. Such tampering with data is a definite no-no in trials for pharmaceutical drugs. Why? Because changing results in pharmaceutical trials could make a treatment look more effective or could diminish the side effects of a certain drug.

Fortunately, to prevent this from happening, Daniel Wong – a PhD candidate in biological and medical informatics at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) – has come to the rescue by building a system that creates an immutable audit trail, making it easy to spot any tampering with results with blockchain technology.

Wong built the system to operate through a web portal, so that each time new data is entered on a given trial participant, the sender, receiver, timestamp and file attachment containing the data, along with the hash of the previous block of data pertaining to that patient, is recorded onto a new block, with its own distinct signature.

To allow for this technology to be used for this purpose, the prototype must have a regulatory body, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, operating the web portal, registering all parties and ledgering the blockchain hashes.

Data flowing through the system, particularly events that are considered hostile, would be reported to the regulatory body in real time. This action may possibly provide a boost to the safety and efficiency of clinical trials. While the prototype makes allowances for data entry or other errors to be corrected, new data can only be appended to the existing chain, without erasing what was there before.

“It makes it really obvious when someone’s changing something,” Wong says. “You can see who put their hands on it, who made it, who changed it, and who received it.”

Wong tested the system with a small subset of data from a real, previously run phase II trial included in ImmPort, a repository of open clinical trial data funded by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

A prototype system like this reduces the risks; however, it does not completely protect data from tampering. The researchers point out that, even within a system enabled with this type of blockchain technology, it is still possible that those seeing patients at the point of care could enter wrong or incorrect data at the outset.

That being said, blockchain technology could enable trials to be conducted under challenging conditions. Or at the very least, allow for data exchanges that are more secure.

Virtual reality

Experiencing the Big Bang through AR

In March 2019, Google unveiled its ‘Once Upon a Try’ online exhibition, at the Science Museum in London, which explored a millennium of human inventions and discoveries.

Now available on its platform Google Arts and Culture, the exhibition has over 400 interactive collections, one of which is an augmented reality app called the ‘Big Bang’.

Developed in collaboration with Cern, the app allows users to embark on a 360-degree journey through the birth of the universe, with narration from actress Tilda Swinton.

I believe tools and apps such as this would be perfect for the education sector – allowing children to learn in a more interactive way and providing teachers with classroom material that is more engaging and visual.

The AR app is available to download on Google Culture and Arts platform ‘Once Upon a Try’

The AR app is available to download on Google Culture and Arts platform ‘Once Upon a Try’

Image credit: CERN/Google

Artificial intelligence

Rediscovering lost identities in American Civil War-era photos

Being a history buff myself, I find this rather neat... Kurt Luther, an assistant professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, developed a free software platform that uses crowdsourcing to increase the ability of algorithms to identify faces in photos.

Using his software, Photo Sleuth, Luther hopes to uncover the mysteries of a whopping four million Civil War-era photographs that may exist in historical records.

The web-based platform allows users to upload photos, tag them with visual cues, and – with the help of algorithms – connect them to profiles of the soldiers on record.

This technology is fantastic, especially given that it will allow historians and visitors to match names of people among the millions on record to a face and allow people to explore their family history.

Throughout his research, even Luther himself came across a far distant relative of his own, saying that “seeing my distant relative staring back at me was like travelling through time”.

Oliver Croxton, pictured above right, is computer science assistant professor Kurt Luther's great-great-great uncle

Oliver Croxton, pictured above right, is computer science assistant professor Kurt Luther's great-great-great uncle

Image credit: Ken Turner Collection


Gearing up for 5G

Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have designed a small transceiver that could help improve performance of fifth-generation cellular network (5G) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The most highly anticipated wireless network, 5G is almost a buzzword in itself thanks to the controversy around Chinese telecoms company Huawei.
The team designed a 28GHz transceiver that integrates a very efficient signal-processing technique called beamforming with dual-polarised multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) technology.

This combination means that its array of antennas can ‘point’ very accurately and respond to both horizontal and vertical radio waves at the same time. What’s more, the team achieved this in a chip measuring just 3mm by 4mm.

5G is just around the corner, and it has to be of the highest quality and speed in contrast to its predecessor 4G. Little inventions such as these will help this become a reality.

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