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MIT Research News

May 7, 2018

Protecting confidentiality in genomic studies

Cryptographic system could enable “crowdsourced” genomics, with volunteers contributing information to privacy-protected databases.

Larry Hardesty | MIT News Office

Genome-wide association studies, which look for links between particular genetic variants and incidence of disease, are the basis of much modern biomedical research.

But databases of genomic information pose privacy risks. From people’s raw genomic data, it may be possible to infer their surnames and perhaps even the shapes of their faces. Many people are reluctant to contribute their genomic data to biomedical research projects, and an organization hosting a large repository of genomic data might conduct a months-long review before deciding whether to grant a researcher’s request for access.