Google, Autism Speaks Announce Cloud Database Collaboration

June 10, 2014 in News

On Tuesday, autism research foundation Autism Speaks announced that Google has agreed to store thousands of human genomes in an effort to accelerate research on the developmental disorder, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Project Details

David Glazer, Google’s engineering director, said the company will use its cloud technology to store genome data collected by Autism Speaks and others. Specifically, the cloud database will hold the sequencing of 10,000 complete human genomes, along with other clinical data on children with autism and their siblings and parents.

The database will be part of the AUT10K, which is Autism Speaks’ genome-mapping program and is thought to be the largest collection of whole genomes in the world.

Google will provide the information and analytical tools in the database, which can be accessed remotely. Access to the database will be open to all qualified researchers who agree to abide by a standard research agreement, the Journal reports (Wang, Wall Street Journal, 6/9).

According to United Press International, the agreement between the two organizations aims to:

  • Accelerate research into the causes of and potential cures for autism;
  • Enable researchers around the world to maximize all available resources; and
  • Save time and computer space.

The average genome in digital form occupies about 100 gigabytes of storage, which means roughly 10 fit on a desktop computer, UPI reports (Hays, United Press International, 6/9).

According to the Journal, organizers expect to have an easy-to-use database portal available within a year and hope to have the raw data available sooner.

Obstacles to Cloud Technology

Despite the potential benefits, there are several concerns about storing sensitive medical data on cloud databases, the Journal reports.

Such concerns include:

  • Privacy and security of the donors’ data;
  • Data accuracy, including correct labeling and use of the donors’ data;
  • Convincing universities and researchers to share their data; and
  • Determining how to protect data that universities and researchers may want to use for their own patents and publications (Wall Street Journal, 6/9).
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