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Google, Stanford Medicine Team Up On Genomics

The school will use the data to improve how it treats patients with cancer, as well as to diagnose children with mysterious, rare diseases.

[Photo: Flickr user Office of Naval Research]

Google's tagline is to organize the world's information, from street addresses and historical data to tourist snapshots and shipping records. And now, that includes our DNA.

In the age of precision medicine, hospitals are collecting vast quantities of patients' genomics data with the goal of tailoring therapies to an individual patient. These hospitals and clinics need a way to securely store and analyze petabytes of data, which is where Google comes in.

In 2014, Google quietly unveiled a cloud computing service, Google Genomics, which will store genomes for about $25 a year each. And today, it announced a major new customer: Stanford Medicine.

The two organizations will work together to ramp up Stanford Medicine's genomics research and better integrate genomic data into routine patient care. The initiative, known as Clinical Genomics Service, will launch this fall.

"The overall premise of what we're doing is to combine the two worlds of data science and life science in a way that makes a difference," says Google Genomics' David Glazer, a former engineering head at Google+, in an interview with Fast Company.

Google will store that information in the cloud, but Stanford Medicine will control how it's used and shared. As is required by a federal privacy rule known as HIPAA, the pair signed an agreement that governs how it will share and protect sensitive health information.

Stanford Medicine will use the data to improve how it treats patients with cancer, as well as to diagnose children with mysterious, rare diseases that have a genetic cause. That's in line with the main objectives of the White House's $215 million-funded Precision Medicine initiative, which was unveiled in January of last year.

But the hospital will also apply genomic data in a proactive way to help prevent patients from getting sick in the first place, according to Stanford Medicine dean Lloyd B. Minor. That's now possible, he says, in an age where it's getting cheaper and cheaper to sequence a patient's whole genome (about $3,000 to $5,000 currently). "We want to be seen as leaders in determining how genomic data, when combined with other data, is able to predict when we're more prone to developing the disease," he says.

Stanford Medicine is a big get for Google Genomics, which competes with the likes of IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft. For Minor, Google's service was the obvious choice as the two organizations have worked closely together for years. Stanford is also exploring opportunities with Google for help in how it might use machine learning technology to assist radiologists in making diagnoses, such as tumors, from medical scans.

"Digital technology can bring us an incredible amount of information about our health," says Minor.

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