TraderCobb Interviews Yasmin Altwaijri @ Consensus Blockchain Week – NY
Started off my day in Central Park with Yasmin Altwaijri with the amazing things she’s been working on to incorporate Blockchain into Science.
G’Day guys! TraderCobb here. Amazing guests on the show today. Dr. Yasmin Altwaijri. I’m really, really interested to hear what she has to say. Thank you so much for being on the show. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself there doctor?
Sure. I’m an epidemiologist and a senior scientist working in the Research Centre at King Faisal specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Which is a a research centre that’s affiliated with a tertiary care hospital.
This is completely fascinating to me. A scientist in Saudi Arabia, what’s happening? How did you get here and what’s your mission? I You have no idea how many times I get asked that. Haha I am sure. So, as an epidemiologist, what we do in epidemiology, it’s a quantitative science of public health.
So we do research where we collect information about people who have diseases. So we have data and we gather data and we analyze the data, look at disease trends, try to understand why certain groups of people have diseases versus other groups of people. So that is our medium.
And I came across about a year ago, someone who’s looking at health applications on the blockchain. And the way they were describing it sounded to me as a researcher, like it was this massive longitudinal research project. Because you have all of this health information being placed on the blockchain, and then you follow people up with time.
And you potentially can understand when diseases happened and why they happened. And then you can then also know how to prevent disease and start intervening at some point during their life. So that’s how I got. I saw the connection between research public health research and the blockchain.
And I mean, there’s so many areas of health care is coming onto the blockchain and the space is morphing and transferring into something that’s really, really big. For example, there’s some projects that I’ve spoken to that are looking at, you know, genome sequencing on the blockchain.
Everything’s coming back towards better health care, for the most part, is it the same sort of I mean, I know you were talking about, you know, different types of people, different age groups, different parts of the world having different diseases, you’re trying to understand why.
Why is it important that is on the blockchain and not just the way it already is? Well, right now, if I was a patient and I went to see a doctor, they would put my information on their medical records, electronic medical records, then I would go see another doctor in another clinic or I might travel to the US and see someone here.
There’s no way to combine. And plus, as a patient, I wouldn’t have ownership of that data. So this would allow me to, to have complete ownership of the data. Plus, it would allow us to combine the results or the information into one large database, basically.
And right now, in Saudi Arabia, there’s a lot of excitement because we’re going through a transformation. We’re trying to transform and improve everything – Yeah, it’s amazing. – in our life in the way things are being done. And we think that if we develop the infrastructure for health applications and blockchain, that if we’re going to do this transformation, we should go ahead and do this as well.
Well, it’s it’s an amazing cause. And so, essentially, I’m trying to think of the practicalities, right. A lot of the viewers and listeners want to know, how does it affect maybe we talk about the tech a little bit, but we talked about the real world use case you sort of pointed that out a little bit.
I’m from Sydney, I’ve had a very long flight to get over here. My jet lag is cool now. We’re all good. But I mean, the point I’m trying to make is, what you’re saying is that once this is created, and you have the ecosystem that you are creating and bringing together at the moment, all effectively, we had to have the records of my health from my doctor in Sydney.
And if I get ill here in New York, I can tap away their computer, wemo there’s my details, and I can be treated accordingly based on my past histories, and also who I am my genes and where I’m from. Is that correct?
Absolutely. And that’s a that’s a short term benefit. But the long term benefit to society is even I think, multitudes stronger, because the more information you have about people and their health, me as a researcher or any researcher.
The more people and the more data that we have, the more power we have to look at relationships and understand the nuances between the risk factors that how we live our life on a daily basis and, and why disease develops. So I’m not only concerned about disease and treatment, I’m personally focusing on hope, hoping that we will be able to use this to focus on prevention.
Yeah, well, that’s the big thing in medicine isn’t I mean, the medicine industry and what you know, having to have medicine is important when you’re sick, right? If you’re not sick well then how do we be better. We talked about exercise about eating well, but that’s just sort of pretty good advice to live your life, right?
In this sort of level of research, you can find sequences that sort of point in the right direction, this person at this age has a high probability of X disease. Therefore, if we fill the body throughout their lifetime with XYZ, then we’ve got a much better chance of maybe not preventing, but prolonging until that illness comes about.
Is that the sort of idea for the more longer term vision or short term adopted thing, long term prevention. Absolutely, absolutely. And we can also do interventions by, you know, trying to identify people who have certain risk factors and, and develop these verticals into the blockchain that can help isolate those people who have these risk factors and try to come up with solutions specifically and targeted for them.
So it’s almost like precision, precision targeted therapy. So what’s the benefit that you said about you, not only the, you know, the health aspects, but the ownership of your identification and your records? How does that benefit me as a human being to have ownership so to speak.
Does it am I going to benefit from that in a financial way? Or is it through a security way? Is it through some people don’t take it the wrong like, you know, can’t access the information for bad. How does that better my life having ownership of my data?
Well, I mean, that’s the whole philosophy that we’re trying to see if we can change the way the system currently operates. I can give you an example from a pharmacologic pharma pharma clinical trial, for example.
I could if my data is that is on the blockchain, and I in and there’s a clinical trial that’s suitable for someone with my type of illness they could get permission from me to use my data. And I would allow them, and I would be compensated in some way. Okay.
So this now is I become, I have full agency over that data, versus just the way it is right now where it is the medical institution or the health institution that controls and has the full ownership of that data right now.
So right now the health industry, whoever that, somebody owns my medical record, yeah, and they’re selling them on to big pharma companies, they could and they’re making money off of my record, and I’m not getting compensated at all.
How’s that actually like how did that come about? Why it seems so strange if somebody’s gonna have something with me and own that without me even knowing that that’s being used? Well, I mean there is there are laws that protect patients rights, obviously.
But then when your data is anonymized and it’s anonymous who those patients are they you can you can get away with certain things but I don’t want to alarm any people right now the because I assure you that there’s a lot of protection to prevent that from happening. But I think the system that we’re aiming for is a much more just just way of dealing with these types of situations.
And let’s dive into the Saudi Arabia part because I am fascinated there as well. It does appear I mean, look I am not there, I’ve not been there. I’d love to go there. It seems like an amazing place a very different way of of of operating, but it seems like it’s maturing.
Maybe that’s the wrong word. Sorry if I offend and I’m not trying to. It’s like the It seems that there’s a resurgence towards a much more modern society. There’s a lot more rights and freedoms and you seem to be champion that championing it in a big, big way.
How positive is the space towards blockchain technology and the crypto assets marketplace? Because we do know in other parts of the world, they’re kind of scared of it. They’re worried about it. They’re not educated about it. Is Saudi Arabia fairly open to this?
Are they looking to become a market leader? Or whereabouts do you think they are at the moment as a country? I think so we’ve got the public in the private sector. So when it code and the biggest players, I think in the field are the public sector.
They’re very keen to be market leaders in this space. But I would say that they’re being very cautious and they want to understand the ecosystem. Look for some pilot studies or case studies where there’s been some successes before incorporating it or adopting it fully.
And maybe in the health sector, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to become do our own pilots and see how we can we can probably maybe p be players in promoting or leading health applications of blockchain in this space.
And is it big in Saudi Arabia is a lot of companies that are working in the blockchain space. Is there events like Consensus in Saudi Arabia? And is there a big public education campaign or understanding? Are you proactive as a generalized the whole nation as a whole? Or is it fairly niche at the moment.
it’s still nice. Consensus visited Joe Lubin visited Saudi Arabia in January. There was a, a JV signed with STC which is our big telco – Yeah – company and one of the largest industries in the region. And, and so there’s going to be a lot of news coming out, I think,
Oh, wow. So it’s really, that’s fantastic. We’ve got Joe coming up on the show in a couple of weeks, which will be, I’ll actually speak to them about that, because I find that I’m fascinated in different parts of the world, how they’re taking part. Because obviously, it’s an international world.
This is the whole point of the blockchain. Absolutely. We no longer want to have these borders. We want to be a seamless society. And the blockchain allows us to do that, especially, you know, medical records, one way of doing it.
I think one of the things that is important to maybe illustrate is here’s a female from Saudi Arabia, who’s a scientist and yet, she’s interested in blockchain and she can actually build something on the blockchain. And this is just a an example of the decentralized nature of the blockchain and how people, different developers around the world can all be part of this emerging decentralized network.
It’s it’s very exciting. Very, very exciting. I mean, your journey into blockchain, why the blockchain like what what was it? Everyone has their moment, right. I had my moment where you go, you start to look at it, you go, okay, this is beyond Bitcoin.
It’s, it’s, it’s an interesting technology. Obviously, you’ve been a scientist. So you’re quite privy to the technology side of things and very different worlds that sometimes come together. What was your aha moment that you realized, you know what this needs to be done? It’s a perfect fit. Let’s go get into it.
I never was into the cryptocurrency aspect of the, of the, of the, which is blockchain is is is the infrastructure for. So when I heard about the potential applications of blockchain in the various industries, I mean, it started with FinTech.
And then the health sector started adopting it or trying to see applications in health institutions, whether its supply chain or drug supply chain. And that was the aha moment when I saw that this could mean major public health benefits to large numbers of people. So why not become part of the change and do something that can benefit a large number of people?
Yeah, well, it’s fantastic. And it’s a lot of people having the same sort of internal conversations, which is really important. And the good thing about it, we do have the capitalist side. So there’s definitely is that and that’s always going to exist. And you kind of need to have that to bring people in, and they need to be, you know, monetize as well but a huge positive movement coming in as well.
From things from voting to see a health care to all sorts of different areas of the world. And it’s it’s fascinating to look at how it actually fits in with the blockchain. I’m not a tech person. I’m a trader, I’m an investor. I’m learning constantly in and as I interview people such as yourself, I, part of the fun is I’m actually asking questions, and I’m interested about, and you guys get to listen and learn about it.
But some, I mean, from your point of view, with the healthcare sector, with the project, that you’re working on how you’re doing it at the moment, what sort of hinder what’s holding you back, if anything, and where have you gotten to with this specific project that you’re involved with?
I think it’s the challenge is going to be explaining how this is. The return on investment is and we’re still trying to quantify that and we need to make informed decisions and I know there’s some aspect of it is going to be us you know, just experimenting. But eventually we’re going to have to have some proof of concept that we can use to convince our policymakers.
And so you’re looking for more of a government backed project as opposed to going to a crowd fundraise. Exactly. And that do you think they’ll based upon, obviously, it’s very hard to say, because you need to, as you said, bring it together and make it suggest to them why it’s important for them.
Will it be a financial outcomes they’re looking for or will it be more about let’s first look at how we can help the Saudi Arabian people and move from there. Or do you think it’s a bit of both? But where do you think that the government sits in that sort of in that gap between capital capitalism and helping people?
So we’re very lucky but because at this point in time, the government is looking for things that will make a difference in people’s lives. There’s even several programs that are being initiated as part of the vision 2030 program. One of them is the quality of life program.
Which aims at improving the life the livability of cities. And there’s huge investment in that program in the billions of dollars. So the potential for finding the potential for being able to to show the policymakers are the justification behind investing in such a one of these projects is hopefully not going to be that difficult if we can come up with a good project.
So the money’s there, the willingness is there, the desire is there. And the sort of vehicle to fund these projects is there. It’s up to you to bring the pieces together to make it attractive for them. Is that more or less where we’re at with it?
Basically, and I hope we can do we can do that. I hope you can too. How far away do you think you are? I mean, are we close? I’m I’m excited, but like the whole for me personally that understanding and use of my data is important. Very important to me.
As I’ve learned more about that now I realized, well, this was something I didn’t even think about that. Now I understand it. I want control of that. And also, the use case for an individual, which is I’m in New York now, I come from Sydney, if I do get ill, it’s a big hassle trying to explain to them where I’m at.
What if I can’t talk? What if I am, you know, nearly dead? What if I’m out? How do we communicate? How do we make that work? So, you know, that aspect of it’s really, really fascinating. So I want to know how close you think you are to having all the pieces together, and what might be missing so that you can actually get the work.
So I’m not I’m just like you, Craig. Craig. I’m not a technologist. Yeah, yeah. But while I was here, I was talking to developers who are interested in this space. And, and we’re, I also am with some colleagues of mine from Saudi Arabia and we have had several discussions and meetings.
We’re definitely going to start. How it pans out and how soon it can mate…, you know how we can have a mature product? That’s something that I kept predicting.
Yeah, of course, fair enough. Well, look, I wish you the absolute best of luck. Thank you. Is there anything else that you wanted to say while we have you? Thank you so much. And I’m, I hope we’ll meet again soon and be able to talk about how impressive – Well you got to. – our product is.
It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show doctor Altwaijri. Thank you so much Craig. And so much good luck to you. Thank you and then we can do let us know. I will. Thanks very much guys. TraderCobb podcast.