A solution for secure analysis of genetic data was discovered in Estonia
Estonian companies in cooperation with the University of Tartu developed a method for analysing human genetic data. The method enables gene banks, including the Estonian Genome Centre, to study the data without disclosing them to each other. This solves the problem of the potential identification of study participants through public genetic and genealogy databases as was recently reported in the journal Science.
Many countries collect people’s genetic data in order to study the effect of genes on hereditary conditions and human health. Unfortunately, the dataset of each such gene bank is often limited to the people residing in the country, which prevents the generalization of study results. By means of the solution developed in cooperation between the Software Technology and Applications Competence Centre, Cybernetica AS and the University of Tartu, gene banks can conduct joint studies while ensuring the privacy of gene donors.
This was achieved by employing the technology of secure multiparty computation. Secure multiparty computation makes it possible to collect and analyze data without the processing party seeing any specific values. As a result, a joint dataset can be created for several gene banks which can then be analyzed in order to find important gene variants but does not leak personal data.
“International cooperation is critical in biomedicine, and today we stand one step closer to it,” said Jaak Vilo, Professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Tartu. “The current laws for personal data protection deem genetic data as particularly sensitive, and the concealment of personal identity must be taken seriously here,” Vilo added.
In collaboration with the University of Tartu, the Software Technology and Applications Competence Centre developed methods for analysis and put them to practice by means of the secure multiparty computation system Sharemind developed by Cybernetica AS. Experiments showed that the solution has practical performance parameters and has better security guarantees than the solutions hitherto known. The description of the solution was published in the international top-ranking bioinformatics journal Bioinformatics.
The Software Technology and Applications Competence Centre is a joint research centre of nine business partners and two scientific partners; its general purpose is to raise the international competitiveness of enterprises by enhancing the cooperation between entrepreneurs and scientific institutions in accordance with the Estonian research and development and innovation strategy for 2007- 2013 “Knowledge-based Estonia”.
Cybernetica AS is a research and development enterprise based on Estonian capital with more than a hundred employees, whose aim is to develop information technology related products and services in the field of information security, information and visual navigation systems and radio communications systems that are competitive in the global market.
Kalev Koppel, The Software Technology and Applications Competence Centre, tel: (+372) 51 59 966, e-mail: kalev.koppel [ät] stacc.ee
Dan Bogdanov, Cybernetica AS, tel: (+372) 52 75 525, e-mail: dan [ät] cyber.ee
Jaak Vilo, Professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Tartu, tel: (+372) 50 49 365, e-mail: vilo [ät] ut.ee