Autism Sharing Initiative

Building the first federated and fully-protected global network for sharing genomics and biomedical data to accelerate research and develop precision healthcare approaches for individuals with autism.

Project Overview

The Problem

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.

How We Are Solving It

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.

Project Lead

  • dnastack@2x e1632890447273

Project Partners

  • roche e1632807560464
  • sickkids e1632807579176
  • autism speaks logo
  • autismspeakscanada1 e1632807619448
  • pacificautismfam e1632805828787
  • excelarlogo e1632814259581
  • ontario brain institute@2x e1632807642973
  • cgp logo web
  • molecular you logo e1632807664509
  • ubc logo2
  • hollandbloorview
  • bcchildrens e1632806211564

Get involved now!

We’re not waiting for the future. We’re creating it.

Become a Member

Are you ready to solve society's toughest challenges?