Estonian scientists have developed what they say is a ground-breaking method for biobanks to conduct joint genome studies without violating the privacy of individual donors and leaking data to third parties.
The study was conducted jointly by the University of Tartu and the Software Technology and Applications Competence Center. The researchers published their findings last week in the Oxford journal Bioinformatics.
"One of the most sensitive types of data in the world is the genotype of a person. It completely identifies a person and teaches us many things about the person's past and possibly also their future," the researchers wrote in a blog post.
In what the researchers call a "race" for genome-based diagnostics and personalized medicine, large scale studies must be conducted in which numerous genome banks aggregate their data. However, the privacy of genome donors has been a problematic issue in such studies, and the researchers are now proposing a software solution, called a "secure multiparty computation system."
"Although many genetic risk factors are known, key causes of common diseases with complex heritage patterns are still unknown. Identification of such complex traits requires a targeted study over a large collection of data. Ideally, such studies bring together data from many biobanks. However, data aggregation on such a large scale raises many privacy issues," the researchers wrote in their abstract.