Image: Researcher viewing mammagram

AI researchers embrace Bitcoin technology to share medical data

Researchers are developing AI algorithms to detect breast cancer in mammograms.BSIP/UIG/Getty

Blockchain could let people offer health records for research — without losing control over them.

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,…

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