Lancor Scientific: transforming cancer screening with blockchain
In pursuit of its goal of making cancer screening available to everyone, Lancor Scientific has combined quantum physics-based testing methods with a blockchain platform secured by virtual currency where patients own their health data in its global cancer registry. Allie Nawrat talks to CEO Aamir Butt to find out how the global cancer registry’s use of technology helps to overcome existing challenges to cancer screening.
ancor Scientific is in the process of launching a global cancer registry with an initial focus on cervical cancer; the company plans to launch an initial coin offering early in 2019, but is prepared to push the deadline back if need be. The primary objectives of the venture are to put patients at the centre of the screening process and make cancer screening available to everyone, everywhere.
The registry exploits a range of technologies. The screening device linked to the registry relies on quantum physics and the registry itself is based upon artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. The registry is linked to distributed ledger technology, called the Lancor Blockchain Platform (LBP), which secures results and authenticates payment and devices with the help of Medici tokens.
The company’s CEO Aamir Butt discusses the challenges facing cancer screening, particularly in the developing world, how technology and data ownership can help overcome these, as well as Lancor Scientific’s ongoing projects and future plans for the registry.
Allie Nawrat: What are the challenges related to the current global approach to cancer screening that motivated Lancor Scientific to create a blockchain-secured cancer registry?
Aamir Butt: One of the main challenges is accuracy. For example in the UK, breast cancer screening is not received with a high degree of positivity by women because the accuracy of the screening is so low that on balance the anxiety that you are left with, compared with finding that cancer early, is seen by some to be too vast.
Also, cost is an issue. The gold standard of any cancer detection is where you have got an oncologist looking through a microscope and counting the number of cancer cells they see on the slide. But obviously that is at a high cost, but also is just not doable. So what we tend to do is use cheaper technologies, which therefore have less accuracy.
This is less of an issue for us here in the UK, because we have the money and we have already invested in that kind of medical value chain. However, imagine that scenario in developing countries, which don't have the money to have already invested in expensive logistic systems and processes to do cancer screening. Approximately 80% of the world's population don’t have access to screening programmes.
The trick is to reduce the number of people that you have to test. However, in order to get to those high-risk groups, you have to have a data set, which is aggregated and available for analysis. [Although] the NHS apparently has the largest data set ever collected by humans in history, that data set is really fragmented.
How can the combined use of technology in the global cancer registry solve these issues?
Something like blockchain-reliant distributed ledger technology is very useful in the world of healthcare data because for the first time you have a system where the patient owns the data in a genuine sense, and they have the ability to make bits of that data available to organisations.
We also have a technology based in quantum physics: optomagnetic imaging spectroscopy (OMIS). We have been working on the product since 2014 as a company registered in the UK, called Tumour Trace. The technology is peer-reviewed and patented. The device is the size of a microscope and connected to the LBP.
The tests available today are chemistry-based. This means they have to be transported to a laboratory to be analysed. Our method is not chemistry-based, it is a physical marker of the presence of cancer, so you get the results there and then.
We use AI on a number of fronts. If we take a sample from the cervix, you get noise, which hides the underlying signal we are looking to pick up. So we use the AI algorithms to actually strip away and remove the noise aspect, before we use the AI to do the underlying cancer classification.
In addition, we have algorithms that can take one X-ray and turn it into a 2.5D image, which is what we call it because it isn't quite 3D, but it looks like a 3D perspective of a single x-ray, which removes ambiguity when trying to understand an X-ray.
Ultimately, we are using very advanced AI algorithms in conjunction with OMIS technology to give the kind of accuracy that we are aiming for. Currently we are at 90% accuracy.
How do you envisage patients will use the LBP and the corresponding Medici tokens?
Our use of tokens is meant on the one hand as an authentication system for the patient themselves, before the data gets uploaded, and on a secondary basis to authenticate the device itself when used for payment.
This is important because in large parts of the world medical fraud is common. It could be the difference between life and death; if you get determined to not have cancer, but do you have it, by the time it is detected, it is too late and it has metastasised.
What are the main benefits of the cancer registry to patients and healthcare systems in the developing world?
A focus on Europe, the US and then looking at other markets means you tend not to see a solution that is globally relevant. We are deliberately looking for the groups of people that look for the greatest complexity, in markets where they don't have any money, which is part of the complexity.
If you are focused slightly more broadly and globally, then you start thinking and addressing those issues. And we have been; we have various thoughts and ideas, all of which lend themselves to something which has a distributive ledger technology.
At what stage of development is the global cancer registry currently?
We are a medical technology company today building everything on the Ethereum platform - that is our minimal product. We will import to other blockchains as they come out.
Regarding the token offering that we are looking to do in January, we are happy for timescales to slip. We have to be conscious of the crypto world and the price fluctuations, as well as regulation.
In 2018, we were formally invited by the government of Austria to set up a cancer research laboratory in Graas where they have a technical and medical university, and a biobank, which is the largest in Europe.
Having access to biological samples, where you can train your algorithms and change your classification, and to the university to improve upon the technology further is unbelievably beneficial for fulfilling our vision.
In our original plans, we had 2020 as when we would first start looking at a cancer number two, following success with cervical cancer, but because of the wonderful support we are getting from the Austrian Government, we may have a further three to four cancers available on the device by then.
What are Lancor Scientific’s plans for the LBP in the long-run?
Phase one is to build this cancer registry. Then we will plug into other data sets so you can more easily narrow the field of people who need to be tested.
One thing we are very conscious of, and we welcome, is the high degree of regulatory compliance that you have to go through when you're dealing with medical data. We don't expect to have our technology in the UK market by the NHS for at least another two years, if not more.
We have discussed moving beyond cancer internally quite a lot, but I think our focus needs to be cancer. If we are able to make cancer screening available to everyone everywhere, it will require a great degree of focus and we don't want to take on too much.
Rather than dealing with other illnesses, we will collaborate with other extremely good companies working in other areas, where their data, combined with the global cancer registry, will allow us to more intelligently focus in on groups of people who may be more at risk.
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