One of this generation’s greatest health care challenges will be privacy. As genomic analysis becomes more precise, individuals with genetically associated disease are increasingly cautious about sharing their genome over fear of discrimination and bias. This is a problem.
Stanford researchers report in Science this week a method for shrouding private genetic information when searching for disease-associated genes. Applying cryptographic technology allowed the researchers to pinpoint gene mutations in a group of patients with a select rare diseases. They were able to keep 97 percent of the subject’s unique genetic information hidden from anyone other than the individuals themselves.
The method described by Stanford’s Krista Conger illustrates how individual subjects are involved in the encryption of their own genome
…each individual encrypts their genome (with the help of a simple algorithm on their own computer or smart phone) into a linear series of values describing the presence or absence of the gene variants under study, without revealing any other information about their genetic sequence. The encrypted information is uploaded into the cloud and the researchers then use a secure, multi-party computation (a cryptographic technique that ensures the input data remain private) to conduct the analysis and reveal only those gene variants likely to be pertinent to the investigation.
+ Nature thought it would be a good week to remind us that science should not be used to justify discrimination.
Good science follows the data, and there is nothing in any data anywhere that can excuse or justify policies that discriminate against the potential of individuals or that systematically reinforce different roles and status in society for people of any gender or ethnic group.