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Blockchain Trainee Headed to Med School

June 18, 2024

After spending a year at Yale School of Medicine’s department of biomedical informatics and data science (BIDS), Roger Lacson is headed to medical school. He’ll do so with an unconventional background in computer science and software engineering—and with a prestigious journal publication under his belt, co-authored with high-powered scholars in the field.

Lacson graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering. Hoping to apply his skills to medical research, he applied for a software engineering job at BIDS. This decision, Lacson says, has helped him gain valuable insights and skills in preparation for his medical education. Over the past year, he has worked under the direction of Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, MBA, PhD, Deputy Dean for Biomedical Informatics, and Tsung-Ting Kuo, PhD, incoming Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science at Yale, to research blockchain applications in the field of medical research.

Lacson’s work has culminated in a new publication that reviews blockchain as a way to manage and protect healthcare data. Blockchain is an immutable, distributed digital ledger currently used to support cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but it also promises privacy and security for sensitive data. Lacson’s paper, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, examines applications of blockchain for medical data sharing, decentralized data storage, clinical trial management and predictive model generation. Lacson is first author, alongside co-authors Yufei (Grace) Yu, Ohno-Machado, and Kuo.

“The manuscript discusses the current state of practical blockchain applications research in the medical field, specifically focusing on articles with quantitatively tested implementations,” Lacson explained. “Applications such as electronic health records (EHR) sharing, clinical trials management, and federated data analysis were among the prominent use cases.”

Overall, Lacson concluded, comparisons were difficult because these blockchain case studies used different metrics to evaluate their results.

While the increasing number of blockchain research papers is encouraging, more can be done to promote adoption in the medical field.

Roger Lacson

“While the increasing number of blockchain research papers is encouraging, more can be done to promote adoption in the medical field,” he said. “In order to enhance the adoption of blockchain in the medical field, blockchain implementation details and evaluation metrics require increased transparency and standardization.” With these improvements, Lacson hopes to see an increased representation of blockchain in academia, in order to encourage further development and integration into existing medical infrastructures.

A Gap Year for Medical Research

Though Lacson is now leaving Yale, he believes his year of research at BIDS helped prepare him for medical school and a career in biomedical research.

“This gap year has provided me with valuable problem-solving skills that will translate well to medical school,” Lacson said. “At BIDS, I learned the value of constant communication and discussion. I had to be resourceful, taking on projects related to blockchain, which I initially had little knowledge about. I learned to conduct a systematic literature review, consisting of formulating research questions, formalizing a search query to select relevant articles, and selecting relevant information to be extracted and analyzed for the study.”

Lacson also learned to code in a new language—Solidity—which was used to develop an Ethereum blockchain smart contract.

Still, this effort could not have succeeded without the support of his mentors and peers. “The team I worked with included Lucila [Ohno-Machado], Tim [Kuo], and Grace [Yu], a PhD student from UCSD. It was a pleasure working with them. [Ohno-Machado] and [Kuo] provided insightful guidance regarding article search parameters, key data elements to collect, and areas of focus for data analysis, while [Yu] assisted in the data collection and manuscript revision processes. I was fortunate to have excellent mentors who dedicated time and effort towards a fruitful and enjoyable collaboration.”

Lacson also praised the multiple monthly seminar series hosted by the department of biomedical informatics and data science, including the BIDS monthly research seminar, the AI in Medicine seminar series and the Rising Star seminar series.

“Seminars hosted by the department were insightful and informative regarding the current state of medical technologies,” he said. “Topics covered ranged from equivariant imaging features to developing large language models for healthcare. These seminars are educational for prospective medical students that may one day interact with, or even play a role in the implementation of these technologies.”

Now that he is leaving, would he do it all again? “Yes!” said Lacson. “I would definitely recommend a BIDS gap year for prospective medical students.”

Submitted by Akio Tamura-Ho on June 07, 2024