Google Helps Launch World’s Largest Autism Database To Boost Research

autism
One in 68 kids are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the U.S. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In partnership with Google, an autism advocacy organization called Autism Speaks will be launching a new program to develop the world’s largest database of genetic information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Called Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Program (AUT10K), the project will be supported on Google’s Cloud Platform and will hold genomic sequence information about autism patients and their families. The project will contain the largest private collection of DNA samples of autism cases in the hopes of promoting research in that area. “This is a really exciting time for us,” Rob Ring, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, told CBS News. “The goal is to build an open-access database for the entire research community.”

Ring claims that Google Cloud is “as secure as it gets” in terms of storing personal data. “The important thing is that the data has been de-identified,” he told CBS, meaning names and other personal information will be removed.

Google plays an important role in the project, Ring said. Autism Speaks will need Google’s help to manage the database and make it simple and easy for researchers to use. Google Genomics was launched as a web-based application programming interface (API) that would store genomic data for research, since the expansion of research has let to vast amounts of data that need to be stored and organized properly. “Modern biology has become a data-limited science,” David Glazer, engineering director of Google Genomics, said in a statement. “We are excited … about the opportunity for Google Cloud Platform to help unlock causes and treatments of autism.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with ASD, though the disorder is five times more common in boys than girls. According to a recent report in the LA Times, autism spectrum disorders costs the U.S. over $236 billion per year. The lifetime cost of being diagnosed with autism in the U.S., meanwhile, is between $1.43 million and $2.44 million.

“The [Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Program] holds the potential to radically transform our understanding of autism and redefine the future of medical care for those affected by the disorder,” Ring said in a statement. “This is an incredibly important moment in autism genomic discovery, and we are poised to write a good part of the next chapter.”

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