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Friday, December 07, 2018, 21:42
Blockchain opens new frontiers in preventive healthcare
By Edith Lu
Friday, December 07, 2018, 21:42 By Edith Lu

Kamal Obbad, chief executive officer and co-founder of Nebula Genomics. (Provided to China Daily)

Blockchain technology seems to come into a new concept of utilizations, serving as an underlying support for genetic testing platforms to secure users’ genomic and healthcare data.

Through blockchain, people can get their genome sequenced, possibly lowering the risk  from potential genetic diseases at an affordable price and with more privacy, the US genetic testing company Nebula Genomics told the ELEVEN Global Meetup – a blockchain industry gathering with 11 projects pitching their best products on Friday in Hong Kong.

Kamal Obbad, chief executive officer and co-founder of Nebula, said consumers would be able to take control over their personal data with blockchain technology, instead of storing genomic data with middleman of a traditional testing company and worrying how it will be used. In this way, Nebula has resolved one of the biggest concerns hindering people getting genome sequenced, Obbad said.

Nebula offers whole-genome-sequence service for $99, which is lower than the average market price. Consumers can also share their own genetic data with biotech and pharmaceutical companies to earn platform tokens.

Seeing China has been the biggest market for genetic testing in the world, Obbad said the company is going to enter the Asian market at some point next year and recruit more Asian people to get genome sequenced.

 “Genomic sequencing for Asian people sometimes could not be that useful because there's not that many people who have been sequenced. Most of the data and research is based off of European people (currently),” Obbad explained.

“We want to increase the number of Asian consumers so that we can make the analysis more actionable and data more shareable.”

But he noted it is tricky, especially for the Chinese market. It is highly regulated in China, and the data must be stored in China as a national resource.

Though facing restrictions, the company seeks to get 100,000 genomes from all around the world including Chinese on their platform in the next six months.

As genome sequencing can collect more data for people to learn how genes are affecting human health, Obbad said gene sequencing will make it easier for them to develop gene editing therapies. But he strongly stressed these are two different things.

Speaking of the Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who claims he has created gene-edited twin babies immune to HIV, Obbad said it is certainly risky and puts the babies at a pretty high risk.

“Something works in the lab or on animals models doesn't mean it's going to work on humans. We don't know what the consequences and the side effects could be.”

Besides Nebula, the event included other blockchain-powered companies such as those specializing in decentralized knowledge sharing platforms, supply chain service ecosystems and 3D animation and rendering projects.

edithlu@chinadailyhk.com

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