Gene expression databases linked to personal genomic data

16 April 2012

A new paper in Nature reports a mathematical method to link an individual’s DNA sample with the correct anonymised data in public research databases.
However, this has not aroused responses such as those to the a similar announcement in 2008, which prompted major bodies including the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the UK Wellcome Trust to withdraw public access to data (see previous news).
Gene expression data can reportedly be linked to the corresponding DNA via the new method making it theoretically possible to identify an associated individual sample and medical data. However, according to Science, the NIH has already said it is not concerned, saying "there may be no way to protect privacy" completely for individual genetic data and that ensuring people understand this is likely to be key in the future.

Comment: In some respects, concerns about the security of genetic data in large-scale research databases are apparently justified; there are, in theory, ways to access them at some level, albeit using highly sophisticated tools. But who would want to? It seems sensible to view this possibility with much less concern than, say, a situation such as an employer being able to access genetic test results for an individual employee.