By Sherry DiBari
Networking coach Michele Jennae once said, "Networking is not about just connecting people. It's about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities."
That was certainly true when Dan Bowden, Chief Information and Security Officer at Sentara Healthcare, gave a talk on cybersecurity at Old Dominion University in 2017.
After the lecture, Sachin Shetty, who holds dual appointments as an associate director at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) and associate professor in the Department of Computational Modeling and Simulation Engineering, spoke with Bowden about his ongoing work using blockchain to address data provenance and identity management.
The result of that conversation was a three-year sponsored research agreement to explore the possibilities of blockchain in healthcare.
Within a year, Shetty, his team at VMASC and the Sentara Healthcare team had worked together to develop "Bloxure," a blockchain-based identity management system.
Blockchain works like a shared database across a network. Information within the database can be securely accessed and transferred quickly by anyone in the network, yet not altered.
This reduces the cost of recordkeeping and reconciling transactions all while providing real-time auditing.
The technology also allows IT security teams to monitor network activities and provide real-time alerts for unauthorized devices.
"Blockchain technology provides businesses the ability to quickly and efficiently trace their products and associated transactions from beginning to present time," Shetty said.
More importantly, blockchain is secure, Shetty explained.
"The technologies underpinning blockchain ensure the resilience of cyber operations even during an attack," he said.
The blockchain platform will have multiple uses across healthcare systems, only one of which is cybersecurity related.
Shetty feels partnering locally offers further benefits.
"Having convenient access to the facility results in face-to-face interactions, which increases trust and expedites the evaluation process," he said.
In February 2019, Shetty and Sentara staff unveiled a prototype of Bloxure at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Global Health (HIMSS) conference in Orlando, Fla. One of the largest health-care technology events in the country, nearly 45,000 people attended the conference.
"Bloxure was very well received at HIMSS," Shetty said.
Once Shetty and Bowden were convinced about the viability, they continued their work on the partnership's development and focused on a suite of healthcare products on the Bloxure platform.
Shetty and Sentara then applied for, and was awarded, a $150,000 Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund grant (CRCF).
CRCF grants are part of a $2.48 million initiative to support small tech businesses and universities in commercializing their research.
That's where Old Dominion University's Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) entered the partnership.
"IIE is assisting Sachin and Sentara with business and commercialization planning and launch, one of the requirements to receive a Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund grant (CRCF) award," explained Nancy Grden, IIE's associate vice president.
Grden believes the Bloxure initiative is a great example of how ODU faculty and Centers, partnering with IIE, in this case Sachin and VMASC; as well as with the community, in this case, Sentara; to translate discovery and innovation application and the broader market of customers.
"This is important because of the partnership between ODU and Sentara, two leaders in the community, coming together to solve a major security problem in healthcare," she said.
Crissie Hall, director of innovation at Sentara, agreed.
"Blockchain is a relatively new technology, especially in healthcare. We liked the idea of collaborating and joint investigating with a regional nonprofit partner who shares our values," she said.