UNICEF launches crypto fund & awards grant to prescription tracking startup, more details on ETH2.0

Blockchain in healthcare updates

UNICEF launches cryptocurrency fund to back open source tech, awards a grant to a prescription tracking project

UNICEF, which is the United Nations Children’s Fund, launched a fund to receive, hold and distribute donations of Bitcoin and Ether (!) with the aim to back open source technology for children around the world. This is a first for the United Nations and it’s amazing they would associate themselves with crypto. That would have been unthinkable very recently.

Anyway, the first donations came from the Ethereum Foundation (non-profit developing and supporting the Ethereum blockchain) who donated 100 ether (~$18,000 at current prices). Among the awardees from this round was Prescrypto, a prescription tracking startup.

Chronicled, the company behind the MediLedger Network, partners with Cumberland

Cumberland will be the preferred systems integration partner for MediLedger.

Decent partners with Gridwise to expand coverage to rideshare drivers

Decent has been making progress this month, also being added to the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange, allowing independent attorneys to access their insurance plans. You can read about how they are using blockchain here.

SimplyVital Health awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation

The grant was for work on the blockchain protocol level, integrating recent innovations into their technology.

Starting a Global Community Bio DAO

I’m at the Global Community Bio Summit and have been amazed and inspired by the community here. It’s full of biotech enthusiasts and includes everyone from your DIY in a garage hacker to the heads of venerable labs. My jaw dropped several times from the stories people relayed to me of the work they were doing, both because of the reasons why they did what they did but also the amazing science behind their projects. I’m sure I’m not the first to observe this, but it feels like something important and big is happening in this community.

I’ll save the details for a blog post some other time, but my other observation is that there is a non-intuitive degree of alignment between the crypto and community bio communities. I deeply enjoyed presenting about blockchains to this community (I’m probably the first/only person to share the genesis block at a biotech conference?) and in particular DAOs/distributed organizations. I wanted to articulate that anyone, even non-technical people, could start and manage a community governed digital organization with a few clicks, and that there was an entire alternative financial system that they could access and no one could stop them. To that end I launched a DAO live in ~5 minutes with 30 eager participants during a workshop by using Aragon. We are planning to continue working on it and try to make something valuable for the community. A working group is being formed and if you’re interested joining that feel free to send me a message.

What I'm reading this weekend

Smart contracts and ETH2.0

One day I hope to be as productive as Vitalik! During the middle of the biggest Ethereum conference of the year he put out six blog posts full of insight on ETH2.0. Here and here are two I spent the most time on, you can find the other four on linked on his Twitter. Each one of these could be a few paragraphs here but I'll focus on what I found to be the most important idea of the six.

The original Ethereum was built on the idea of one single world state and every node on the network verified every transaction that was applied to this state. But in some ways Ethereum has become a victim of its own success; it is used enough that the network can get congested. When that happens transaction costs and times go up, which leads to a bad user experience. So there is a desire to relax the constraint of having every node verifying every transaction, which would help Ethereum scale.

Ethereum is transitioning to “Ethereum 2.0,” which is a new and upgraded Etheruem chain. It will have a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism as well as a scaling solution called “sharding.” As you might be able to surmise, this breaking the previously homogeneous state of the Ethereum blockchain into many “shards” which will enable parallel transactions, thus increasing throughput. Each shard will be like its own mini blockchain with its own nodes validating that shard. 

Developers worry that this will break “composability,” or the ability to put smart contract together like LEGOs to build higher order applications that weren’t possible without their components. Intuitively this concern makes sense because, well, you’re breaking the blockchain up into a bunch of pieces. Smart contracts will have to live on individual shards, and since these are like mini blockchains it will be more difficult to communicate between them than the status quo, where all smart contracts live on one giant homogenous blockchain. While this enables parallel transactions, and thus increases throughput, it adds complexity. As Vitalik points out this isn’t an insurmountable challenge but it requires developing smart contracts in a different way.

I think that this general problem of having some state (data) somewhere (a blockchain, a layer 2 solution, a shard) and act on some state elsewhere (another blockchain, a different layer 2 solution, a different shard) will be increasingly common in the medium term and not limited to ETH2.0. Developers should think about how to plan for this future state when designing their solutions today. Details on how to do this are too long to describe here, but Vitalik’s posts are a good place to start.

Multi-collateral DAI to launch on Nov 18

This week in Libra news…

The exits of former members are not a good thing, but nonetheless I don’t think it spells the end for Libra. It was interesting to see David Marcus go back and forth with crypto legend Nick Szabo (there are theories that he is Satoshi) on Twitter. Given this exchange, perhaps Marcus will come back with a proposal for a more decentralized version of Libra, and thus one where its corporate members can’t be pressured as much.

A model for Bitcoin’s security and the declining block subsidy

NuCypher raises $10m ahead of their mainnet

I’m a big fan of their tech and recently won a hackathon using NuCypher’s proxy re-encryption scheme. Definitely a company to watch.

Telegram’s ICO halted by SEC

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Samsumg Health explores crypto rewards, startup raises $5.5m, & EOS creator settles with the SEC

Blockchain in healthcare updates

Samsung Health exploring crypto for exercise rewards

In particular, Samsung Electronics plans to expand its blockchain services to health and identity authentication. It will use the blockchain technology to Samsung Health and offer cryptocurrencies to users as an award for exercise to encourage their participation. Its ultimate goal is to improve consumers’ convenience by simply providing various documents and certificates through mobile devices.

BurstIQ raises a $5.5m Series A

BurstIQ is one of the older companies in the blockchain and healthcare space and they offer HIPAA compliant ways of managing health data using a blockchain. This week they announced a $5.5m Series A, the 2nd largest raise this year (behind Chronicled’s $16m) bringing the total funding for blockchain and healthcare startups this year up to $36.9m.

A brief note

This week’s news was relatively light, probably because there are a series of conferences coming up where announcements could be made. On that note I’ll be in Boston this week talking about DAOs and bioethics at the global community bio summit and debating privacy at Conv2X. If you’re in New York I’ll also be on a panel discussing public/private blockchains on the first day of the Blockchain Health Summit. Feel free to reach out if you’ll be around and want to meet up.

What I'm reading this weekend

Developer of the EOS blockchain settles with the SEC

EOS is a blockchain network launched by block.one and one of the highest profile projects of the 2017-2018 era. They ran a year long Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”) without a cap, and took in over $4 billion dollar even before their blockchain was launched. Famously John Oliver criticized EOS and their eccentric founders on Last Week Tonight. This past week block.one settled with the SEC and agreed to pay a $24m fine for selling unregistered securities. To many in the space this was an outrage because block.one is paying a fine of 0.6% of what they raised. Indeed, they paid more money for the domain voice.com than they did for offering unregistered securities. Moreover reading the tea leaves of their settlement it seems likely that the SEC will not deem EOS a security, which means exchanges can sell EOS to retail investors.

Block.one’s defense, in part, rests on their attempts to stop US retail investors from investing, but on the other hand, they did advertise in Times Square, and all it took for a US resident to buy in was a VPN. Moreover, there is an argument that while block.one did sell tokens which were securities at the time of the sale, those tokens are no longer securities because the network is “sufficiently decentralized” and no longer depends on block.one for its success. I find this to be a dubious claim, even if it is technically true that the network would go on without block.one implicitly there is an understanding that block.one will use their $4bn war chest to further the network. If block.one walked away from EOS it would be catastrophic for EOS.

What is frustrating is how companies like Blockstack, and many others, have done everything by the book and were rewarded with hefty lawyer fees, relatively limited raises, and high restrictions on who can own/trade their token. In contrast, block.one’s approach was “don’t ask for permission, hire good lawyers and ask for forgiveness” and they were rewarded with a (relative to their raise) small fee, several billion dollars, and the ability for retail investors to own their tokens. I want there to be a supportive atmosphere for crypto innovation in the US. But this doesn’t feel right.

Hyperledger launches Trusted Compute Framework

Traditionally every node in a blockchain performs computation for every transaction that takes place on the network. This gives every node a global view of what’s happening such that there is one ledger everyone agrees on and there aren’t any trusted third parties. But in turn this causes scalability issues as transactions can’t be executed in parallel. In addition there are issues with privacy as you can’t exclude a subset of nodes from executing a transaction.

One solution to this has been moving computation from “on-chain,” where all nodes execute all computation, to “off-chain,” where one or a subset of nodes perform computation off of a blockchain and relay the result to their peers. The difficult part of this architecture is moving computation off-chain without introducing trusted third parties. That is the problem that this framework is trying to solve and the blog post highlights trusted execution environments, zero-knowledge proofs, and multi-party compute as potential solutions.

It is great to see the Hyperledger Foundation adopt this framework because the project was borne out of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance’s Off-Chain Trusted Compute Specification. This is another sign that the historically rivalrous communities are deepening their collaboration, a good thing for industry and everyone involved.

zkay: Specifying and Enforcing Data Privacy in Smart Contracts


Researchers have created a way to have private data on public smart contracts. It uses Non-interactive Zero-Knowledge proofs and a novel syntax (see above) for their smart contract language which builds on top of Solidity. Thanks to Spencer Graham for point this out to me.

Revamped Google & University of Chicago Medical Center Lawsuit

"The University of Chicago Medical Center sold patient records to Google so it could develop new products instead of using them for research... patients didn’t consent to share their records for financial gain."

Apple CEO: issuing money is for governments

A clear dig at the Facebook led Libra Association, who lost a key member as PayPal decided against participating further ahead of a meeting in Washington to address criticism. Visa, Stripe, and MasterCard are also wavering.

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Blockchains and Biospecimens, Telegram gears up to launch a blockchain to millions

Blockchain in healthcare updates

Distributive biobanking models: Why Biospecimens need blockchain

The author begins by pointing out how common biospecimens are, the problems with the standard model of housing biospecimens, and suggesting that we need to decentralize all parts of the current system including consent practices, ethics and governance oversight, quality management, logistics, research, and so forth. As part of the solution, they propose the usage of non-fungible tokens to represent specific biospecimens, including the data from the biospecimen, along with information like GPS location, expiration dates, brand, date and time, etc, and tie them to a public/private key combination on a blockchain. The idea, I think, is that the owners of these NFTs can make decisions related to them, such as permitting secondary usage of their biospecimen for research, or sharing the related data.

One problem with this technical approach is public keys are, well, public. Anyone can look at a public key and see the NFTs / transactions associated with it, and if you can tie a real world identity to a public key then you could potentially gleam sensitive information about that person. A potential solution to this would be using zero-knowledge proofs to add additional privacy.

Computerworld gives some context and an introduction to MediLedger’s VRS solution

MediLedger’s product verification solution launched in July in advance of a key DSCSA regulatory deadline in November 2019 and was recently integrated into SAP.

BlocHealth's latest round of fundraising puts blockchain and healthcare venture funding at $31.4m for the year to date, up from ~$25m last year

After the space raised $25.7m in the first half of 2019 funding has slowed down somewhat, with $5.7m being invested since then, most of it in Patientory. BlocHealth is a startup that is tackling the woefully inefficient credentialing process.

The Australian Government issued a request for information seeking advice on next-gen technology, including blockchain, for its digital health initiatives

Digital Asset releases an open source reference application for the claims lifecycle

What I'm reading this weekend

Build vs buy: what should health systems do?

Key quote:

New business models, such as full stack tech-enabled clinical services (meaning the complete delivery of the clinical care made scalable and lower-cost by applying technology), are showing promise.

Facebook’s David Marcus, a key leader in the Libra project, posts on why a new protocol for money is the right approach

Marcus points out problems with the current system:

  1. It is full of “closed” money networks that are not interconnected (ACH, European Payments Council, SWIFT, etc) and are often times legacy infrastructure.

  2. The underlying infrastructure introduces limitations that make interoperability difficult because of a lack of an open standard for money a la SMTP.

  3. Moving money today requires a number of intermediaries, introducing delays and costs.

The tl;dr is that Marcus thinks the adoption of a global payments network based on a blockchain would solve this. Of course, he thinks that payments network should be Libra, but his argument holds for any open blockchain based payments network.

Information Asymmetry in Crypto

I thought this quote was a good summation of something I’ve felt for awhile now:

There are numerous verticals developing within crypto, and it is becoming near impossible to be sufficiently knowledgeable in multiple verticals. Developments are too diverse and progress is happening too quickly for anyone who is dabbling to be sufficiently up to speed.

Substitute “crypto” with “blockchain” and the quote is more applicable. And that’s before you include the deep domain specific knowledge that it takes to build something useful with a blockchain in healthcare, or some other field. As a result people can get away with hand waving or complexity theater.

Details on Telegram’s blockchain emerge as it is set to launch soon

Telegram is a popular messaging service (I run a discussion group using it!) with a few hundred million users. At the height of crypto mania they raised a cool $1.7 billion dollars to build their own next generation blockchain, launch a token, and integrate it with their messaging app. At the time they raised money Telegram’s plans were widely criticized by high profile community members as unreasonable. If they are able to live up to their prior claims they will have made several rather significant technical advances, but as of now, we haven’t seen any code so it’s hard to tell what they’ve actually made. Moreover, Telegram has millions of users, and so this would instantly create one of the largest blockchain communities in the world. Regardless we should have a high bar for evaluating Telegram’s new technology.

Nature biotechnology: Deep learning enables rapid identification of potent DDR1 kinase inhibitors

FDA clarifies how it will regulate digital health and artificial intelligence

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Anonymous DNA sequencing & a new smart contract platform launches

Blockchain in healthcare updates

You Can Soon Get Your DNA Sequenced Anonymously

Nebula Genomics has made a push for “anonymous sequencing,” or “gaining all the benefits of genomic sequencing without the need to share any personal information.” You can see their recommended practices in the image above, and on top of that they offer “blockchain based secure storage,” which is using a blockchain as a way to manage access to data. Towards the end of the article they mention their on-going work on fully homomorphic encryption, or performing computations on encrypted data, which Nebula plans to roll out next year. That would allow researchers to make use of encrypted genomic data without decrypting it, a very enticing capability to have with data as sensitive as your genome. In an early issue of this newsletter we saw a proof-of-concept of this called Trustless Health. Scaling this tech and commercializing it would be an impressive feat.

After tweeting out the above Wired article out I found it interesting that several other blockchain and genomics companies were quick to add their own privacy credentials to the conversation. A handful of brands were, in real time, competing on the dimensions of trust and privacy. As privacy embeds itself further into the zeitgeist of our time this begs the question: how are you going to compete? What will your organization do to differentiate itself and establish trust with consumers?

FDA Deputy Commissioner highlights blockchain as a part of their effort to modernize food safety

The FDA also announced a parallel workshop on “A New Era of Food Safety” and invited stakeholders to participate. Details below:

Title:  A New Era of Smarter Food Safety
Date: October 21, 2019
Time: 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Location: Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Health and Prevention has launched a blockchain-based “system to save and share assessment information of health professionals, including doctors, pharmacists and technicians, with local licensing health authorities.”

The clinical supply blockchain working group led by Pfizer, Biogen, and LedgerDomain added a new member: Almac Group

What I'm reading this weekend

Long awaited Hedera Hashgraph launches a mainnet

Hashgraph has touted their network as a more scalable and enterprise friendly alternative to existing blockchains and at the height of crypto-mania they raised over $100m to build their tech out. A handful of big corporations sit on their newly formed governance council and this week they launched a mainnet. Interestingly one of the dApps that launched with Hashgraph’s mainnet is focused on healthcare.

Hashgraph’s story is a surprisingly common one. There are a lot of new smart contract platforms that raised a ridiculous amount of money coming online now and they all promise to be better than everyone else! You should have a very high bar for these new entrants before making a switch to their platforms. It is one thing to make a claim about technology and show it in a demo, but it is an entirely different task to demonstrate that in the wild. Beyond making better tech, new platforms must also attract a community of developers and create tooling necessary for adoption; thus far none have been successful. Indeed, one needs to look no further than EOS, which raised a jaw dropping $4.1 billion dollars, to see why caution and skepticism is healthy.

As for Hashgraph itself, I found this to be a well researched article on some of the technical claims made by Hedera and why they are misleading. Hedera issued a reply you can see here, to which the previous author also replied.

Halo: Recursive Proof Composition without a Trusted Setup

The Electric Coin Company (for-profit supporting Zcash) published this research on a new type of zero-knowledge proofs. It’s a cool piece of technology that lets us “compress” computation together and make it easy for someone else to verify those computations. Previously this was only possible with a “trusted setup,” which can be problematic. As I’ve written elsewhere, and you can see from the article just below this, I’m very excited by privacy preserving technologies like zero-knowledge proofs.

Thinking ‘oat’ of the box: Technology to resolve the ‘Goldilocks Data Dilemma’

Vince Kuraitis and Deven McGraw are hosting a series on the “Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma.” In short, the Goldilocks Dilemma highlights the tension between the dual goals of increasing data sharing and increasing our privacy. The series explores that tension and the possible resolutions. It’s an important topic and the series is well written.

Marielle Gross and I submitted a guest article on how technologies like blockchains, fully homomorphic encryption, and zero-knowledge proofs, can help us resolve this tension. To quote the article:

The cumulative significance of these paradigm-shifting technologies is their potential to eliminate the Goldilocks Dilemma between privacy and learning, individuals and the collective, once and for all.

Emergent Tool Use from Multi-Agent Interaction

Some stablecoin news

Libra was grilled by representatives from 26 central banks this week

Binance pitches a government friendly Libra alternative

Germany passes national blockchain policy and seeks to limit stablecoins as an alternative to state currencies

Wells Fargo looks to pilot their own dollar linked stablecoin competing with JP Morgan’s

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Blockchain at the HHS and Libra faces European opposition

Blockchain in healthcare updates

An interview with HHS officials about blockchain activities and possibilities at the HHS

This interview featured Oki Mek, chief technology officer at the HHS Acquisition Division, and Todd Simpson, chief product officer at HHS. They spoke about the various blockchain initiatives underway including:

  • HHS Accelerate, which is an acquisition lifecycle management system

  • Emergency response at the CDC

  • Real time health monitoring

  • Grants management

Moreover, they spoke about the value of blockchain in its ability to facilitate trust by being resistant to tampering, and as Oki Mek points out, that makes it a great technology for cybersecurity. They also spent time talking about Accelerate, how it is using blockchain, and its roadmap. Accelerate was the first blockchain project to get an authority to operate in the federal government, and it was borne from Jose Arrieta’s efforts, who has since then taken a job as the HHS’ CIO.

Recent paper: Towards Patient-centered Stewardship of Research Data and Research Participant Recruitment with Blockchain Technology

This paper proposes a novel architecture using mobile devices and a blockchain to help streamline the process of matching patients to clinical trials. In short, they are publishing details on research to a blockchain to “[create] a public record of all studies and a precise description of the data consumed by each study.” There are several other moving pieces proposed, like the use of the Rete algorithm. Although it is briefly mentioned, I found that it wasn’t clear what the benefit of using a blockchain in this architecture was over, say, a new and improved clinicaltrials.gov.

A brief post from Encrypgen’s David Koepsell on standards in genomic & blockchain

Specifically this post highlighted why standards are important as well as Encrypgen’s (and other’s) decision to participate in the IEEE P2418.6 Blockchain for Healthcare and Life Sciences Genomics subcommittee Standards Development process. If you’re working in this space I would encourage you to get involved.

I’m starting a blockchain and healthcare Telegram community group

This will be a supplement to this newsletter where I’m hoping to create a community where blockchain and healthcare enthusiasts can discuss ideas and updates. If you have comments on something in this issue, other content you want to discuss, or something else blockchain and healthcare related, jump in by clicking on the link above.

What I'm reading this weekend

I’m continuously impressed by the execution of OpenLaw. Check out this 18 second demo where someone launches a DAO and legally incorporates it from their smart phone.

Incorporation, voting, liquidation, managing finances, and more are all rapidly being expressed as computer code. At some point in the near future we’ll have all the tools needed to start and run a completely digital organization with just a few clicks.

Enabling developers and organizations to use differential privacy

This is another tool in the toolbox for us to create privacy preserving products and services. I wrote a brief introduction to some of these tools back in May and am working on a more complete list. The pace of work in this space is amazing.

France calls for EU-wide crypto rules, a public digital currency, and vows to ban Libra

France’s Minister of the Economy and Finance claimed that the country could not let Libra go ahead because it threatened the monetary sovereignty of governments. This reflects his initial reaction in June. Germany’s ruling coalition is also looking to block the launch of Libra, though he cites how “the economy has done a great job in countering crises and inflation with measures taken by central banks” instead of monetary sovereignty. To me this seems like it is only half of the story as we go further and further into the uncharted territory of negative interest rates, and it also opens up an argument for Libra if we have a recession or inflation picks up.

Despite opposition from key players in the EU the Libra Association is adamant that they will launch in the 2nd half of 2020. My guess remains that the Libra Association will make some concessions and be allowed to launch. This is as much about geopolitics as it is technology or monetary sovereignty. We might cringe at the idea of Facebook, et al being having power over our money, but that’s more permissible than the People’s Bank of China having power over our money. Moreover, it seems that we might end up with a European alternative as well, with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney calling for a Libra-like replacement to the dollar backed by national currencies.

Vitalik pens another post comparing how some layer 1 and layer 2 scaling solutions are in effect doing the same thing

Digital medicine standards 101

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