It is now possible to scour complete human genomes for the presence of disease-associated genes without revealing any genetic information not directly associated with the inquiry, say Stanford University researchers.
This “genome cloaking” technique, devised by biologists, computer scientists and cryptographers at the university, ameliorates many concerns about genomic privacy and potential discrimination based on an individual’s genome sequence.
Using the technique, the researchers were able to identify the responsible gene mutations in groups of patients with four rare diseases; pinpoint the likely culprit of a genetic disease in a baby by comparing his DNA with that of his parents; and determine which out of hundreds of patients at two individual medical centers with similar symptoms also shared gene mutations. They did this all while keeping 97 percent or more of the participants’ unique genetic information completely hidden from anyone other than the individuals themselves.
“Often people who have diseases, or those who know that a particular genetic disease runs in their family, are the most reluctant to share their genomic information because they know it could potentially be used against them in some way,” said [Gill Bejerano, PhD, associate professor of developmental biology, of pediatrics and of computer science.] “They are missing out on helping themselves and others by allowing researchers and clinicians to learn from their DNA sequences.”
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