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Increasing Adoption of Cloud Computing Drives New Information Privacy and Security Challenges

October 22, 2014

Cloud Computing

The latest innovations in genomic analysis make gene sequencing more feasible and accessible than ever. When it comes to complex diseases, such as the various forms of autism spectrum disorder, genomic research can greatly accelerate discoveries into diagnostics and treatment. However, the heterogeneity of these diseases also demands that biospecimens and associated patient information be collected from a large patient population.

The collection of such an unprecedentedly large amount of information presents computing challenges for researchers, especially with regard to storage and processing. Cloud computing offers viable solutions to these obstacles and is increasingly being deployed in medicine. However, any research organization or health care provider that decides to take advantage of cloud computing faces new challenges to ensure information privacy and security.

Assess and limit the risks
In 2012, Healthcare IT News conducted a survey revealing that 33 percent of healthcare organizations were using cloud computing, while another 48 percent said they had plans for adopting the technology as part of their infrastructure. The remaining 19 percent had no plans for cloud computing, and Rick Kam, president and co-founder of ID Experts, told the news source that potential security issues are likely responsible for any hesitation.

“Healthcare entities are responsible under Federal HITECH and HIPAA regulations for the security of PHI in the cloud, though they often have little or no control where or how this data is moved, processed or stored,” Kam told Healthcare IT News.

To help promote peace of mind for stakeholders who decide to use cloud computing, Kam had six tips:

  1. Carefully draft, review and sign business agreements with the cloud provider that outlines liabilities and risks.
  2. Limit which users have access to the cloud.
  3. Research applications by determining their security and interoperability capabilities.
  4. Create certification standards that are compliant with federal regulations as a means of third-party validation.
  5. Conduct an inventory of protected health information and personably identifiable information.
  6. Prepare in incident response plan in cases of data breaches.

Application of technology is well underway
One team of scientists that has decided to take advantage of the benefits offered by cloud computing is the Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Program, or AUT10K. The researchers behind this project, sponsored by the patient advocacy group Autism Speaks, are working with the Google Cloud Platform to see to their data storage and analyses needs. Specifically, the project aims to sequence the whole genomes of 10,000 individuals who come from families all around the world who are impacted by autism spectrum disorders.

“Modern biology has become a data-limited science,” David Glazer, engineering director for Google Genomics, said in a statement. “Modern computing can remove those limits. We are excited to be working with the Autism Speaks team on storage, processing, exploration, and sharing of the AUT10K data. We’re even more excited about the opportunity for Google Cloud Platform to help unlock causes and treatments of autism.”

Autism Speaks pointed out that analysis results for the first 100 genomes AUT10K sequenced were published in the summer of 2013, and that they are currently approaching 1,000 completed genomes.

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