Using Google to Search for Origins of Autism

Google has announced it plans to partner with autism research group Autism Speaks to create the largest database of information on people with autism using Google Genomics, a part of the company’s cloud platform. The project, called MSSNG, hopes to explore the human genome in order to pinpoint the origin of the genetic condition. Google will collect and organize the data including the genomes of 10,000 people on the autism spectrum, along with their family members, through which researchers will sift. Autism Speaks describes suggests the project is a huge step research and states on the organization’s website,

Valued at $50 million, MSSNG aims to sequence and analyze the whole genomes of 10,000 individuals in families affected by autism – an unprecedented undertaking that will provide the global autism research community with a platform to answer some of the most vexing questions about the disorder. … Once completed, this historic program could lead to uncovering various forms of autism, like the various forms of cancers today. This in turn could lead to individualized treatments and therapies for those with autism.”

Rob Ring, chief science officer at Austism Speaks, says as quoted in WIRED

We believe that the clues to understanding autism lie in that genome. We’d like to leverage the same kind of technology and approach to searching the internet every day to search into the genome for these missing answers.”

This modern day Human Genome Project, is expected to cost $2,500, emphasizing the huge advancements provided by the development of today’s technology. By comparison, the actual Human Genome Project which took place from 1990 to 2003 cost an approximate $3 BN. The platform will allow researchers to search for keywords, as well as for specific regions and sequences within the genome. By keeping the data in a central location of large capacity, researchers are expected to be more able to adequately address the potential 100 gigabytes a single human genome can require.

Google has previously enetered into health research, using their big data system to address Parksinson’s disease as well as various forms of cancer. Google offers researchers a central location at which to store large amount of information needed to adequately compare data.

Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks, says as quoted in the same WIRED article,

What matters most to us is that this research is going to allow us to uncover and understand the various forms of autism.”

 

Read more here- “Google Opens its Cloud to Crack the Genetic Code of Autism,” (Marc Wohlsen, Wired)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.

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