Google and an autism research group have launched a new program to help scientists study autism and come up with new treatment options.
The group is Autism Speaks, an organisation founded by Suzanne and Bob Wright after one of their grandchildren was diagnosed with autism. Bob Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and former CEO of NBC and NBC Universal.
Autism Speaks has teamed up with Google for a project called MSSNG to create the world’s largest database of genetic information on people with autism. The director of MSSNG is a famous geneticist, Stephen Scherer.
Google has actually been working with Autism Speaks on this project since the summer. The news on Tuesday is that the database will now be freely shared to other scientists.
The project aims to sequence the whole genomes of more than 10,000 individuals with autism and their families.
Autism Speaks describes the project like this:
Valued at $US50 million, MSSNG aims to sequence and analyse the whole genomes of 10,000 individuals in families affected by autism — an unprecedented undertaking that will provide the global autism research community with a platform to answer some of the most vexing questions about the disorder. … Once completed, this historic program could lead to uncovering various forms of autism, like the various forms of cancers today. This in turn could lead to individualized treatments and therapies for those with autism.
So far, scientists have sequenced more than 1,000 genomes (the complete set of genes in a cell) and are working on 2,000 more.
Autism Speaks speaks says that 1 out of 68 people in the U.S. are affected with autism spectrum disorders, with boys more frequently diagnosed, 1 out of 42.
Not everyone “on the spectrum” suffers from some of the developmental problems associated with autism, nor views autism as something that needs to be “cured.”
And because of that, Autism Speaks and this project in particular is controversial in the autistic community. A blogger on the Autism Women’s Network went so far as to call Autism Speaks a “hate group.”
Autism Speaks said this project is for people who do want more information and more treatment options.
“The best research minds in the world are going to mine this database of DNA, so we can uncover and understand the various subtypes of autism,” Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks said in the group’s press release. “Then, we can get to work developing customised treatments and therapies so we can improve the quality of life for so many people who need help.”