Autism Speaks has an ally in Google now that the tech giant has joined hands with the advocacy organization. The California-based internet technology provider has agreed to house enormous loads of genomic data related to autism on its cloud storage facility, which would be used by researchers across the country and the world. It would also help healthcare facilities to offer any genetics-based medicines in the not so distant future. For now, Google will store information of approximately 10,000 whole genomes from people who have autism or autism-related genes.
Statistics reveal that autism has risen by almost 600 percent in just two decades and shows no signs of slowing down. The numbers could increase by as much as 75 percent within the next five years if some major breakthrough is not achieved, experts predict. As of now, one out of every 68 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with this developmental disorder. There are some doctors and researchers, though, who feel that autism is drastically over-diagnosed. They attribute this to the pharmaceutical companies’ marketing efforts rather than any actual increase in the number of children who have autism.
Nevertheless, Google is offering not only its storage facility but also computing technologies for such genomic research. The information also needs to be shared with others in the scientific community, and analyzed as well. This helps to confirm results, and save on repetitive experiments, effectively reducing costs of potential medications. Google Genomics’ proprietary analytical and other tools could be useful for researchers to mine, access, share and process information as desired without losing too much time.
For Google, research on autism and other genomic sequences holds a huge financial potential, and so could joining hands with Autism Speaks. Some experts feel that genetic composition based medications are the way to go forward into the future of curing diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and heart disease. These studies could eventually pave the way to cures for HIV and other infectious ailments as well.
The road into medicine has not always been easy for the search engine giant. Google had to close down one of its earlier forays into healthcare. The company wanted healthcare records to be transformed into electronic format; but the project failed and it was closed down in 2011. That, however, did not stop Google from flirting with other healthcare segments. The company is already supporting Calico, another genome analysis project aiming to decipher the factors that lead to aging, build an artificial brain and eventually blaze the path to transhumanism—a movement intended to merge man and machine. Ray Kurzweil, a top Google executive, is deeply involved in this movement and is currently building a replica of a human brain in the hope of one day achieving AI (artificial intelligence) that is much smarter than all of the smartest living humans put together.
Arthur Levinson, who is the Chairman of Genentech, a subsidiary of Roche, is leading the project that has seen Google join hands with Autism Speaks. Levinson was once a director on Google’s board. The company has also invested substantial resources in a genetic testing business called 23andMe.
Google has joined hands with Autism Speaks, which now has one of the largest DNA samples at its disposal, collected from private sources. These will be launched under “Aut10K.” The project would be led by Dr. Stephen W. Scherer from Toronto’s The Hospital for Sick Children’s Centre for Applied Genomics.
By: Rebecca Savastio