Autism Sharing Initiative

The Autism Sharing Initiative project aims to build the first federated and fully-protected global network for sharing genomics and biomedical data to accelerate research to develop precision healthcare approaches for individuals with autism.

Project Budget – $11.2M
Partner Co-investment – $6.9M
Supercluster Co-investment – $4.3M 

DNAstack: $3.01M 
UBC: $0.5M
SickKids: $0.5M 
McGill: $0.05M 
Excelar: $0.07 
Molecular You: $0.2M 
 

*Contracted amounts as of May 31, 2021. 

Project Partners

Project Overview

Over the past 20 years, more and more people have been diagnosed with neurodevelopmental conditions.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication — each autistic person has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. There is not one autism but many subtypes, influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism affects approximately one in 66 Canadians.

The Autism Sharing Initiative aims to build on Canada’s leadership in autism research and unite the world’s most ambitious efforts, to build the first federated global network for sharing genomics and biomedical data to accelerate research with the hopes of developing precision healthcare approaches for autistic individuals.

While a great deal of genomic and clinical data are being collected in autism research, these datasets are maintained independently by institutions to protect privacy and data security. To date, it has been difficult to study these data together, limiting researchers’ ability to better understand the genetic factors involved in autism. Using new technology, the Autism Sharing Initiative will enable international collaboration between institutions, allowing researchers to search and analyze multiple de-identified datasets at the same time, without moving the data from its original organization. Because the location of the data is maintained, the levels of privacy and security will be maintained, and data will be accessed according to patient consent.

This research is enabled by new technology based on the concept of “data federation,” a technique that allows search and data analysis to be performed across multiple datasets while allowing the individual datasets to remain in their protected local environments. Through building this new federated global data sharing network of genomics, multi-omic clinical, medical, patient and family-centered data, researchers and healthcare professionals will be able to leverage artificial intelligence (AI)-based methods to mine complex datasets, which could enable earlier diagnoses and the development of precision healthcare approaches for autistic people.

The Autism Sharing Initiative will develop new easy-to-use software that allows institutions to independently manage data but virtually integrate them over distributed networks. This project would not be possible without autistic people and their families participating in research  and the community will be able to engage to help maximize the value to autistic people. Powered by implementations of the latest open standards developed by the Global Alliance for Genomics & Health, the software securely shares all data, allowing researchers to bring their best ideas forward in the most efficient and careful manner. Enabling scalable federated analysis and machine learning could fuel new research discoveries that could have broad impact for collaborative genomics research beyond autism.

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