Project Seeks to Safeguard Privacy of Genomics Data

Dec. 2, 2009

A new $1 million grant is intended to help ensure the privacy of each person whose information is included in increasingly vast banks of genomics data, according to a UT Dallas computer scientist.

The greatest potential for genomics-related medical advances lies in analyzing enormous combined stores of genomics data that may have originated from dozens of institutions and research studies, according to Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu, an assistant professor of computer science at UT Dallas. Such work could ultimately enable health care to be personalized to each patient’s genome.

“But the availability of such databanks for widespread use is contingent on protecting the anonymity of the individuals who correspond to the shared records,” said Kantarcioglu, co-investigator on the project based at Vanderbilt University. “Though policy and technical approaches for biomedical records privacy exist, they are inappropriate for environments that consolidate records from multiple organizations.”

Various investigations have demonstrated that the simple de-identification of people’s biomedical records leave centralized records vulnerable to “re-identification” through public resources.

So researchers plan to develop a novel data protection model for centralized person-specific biomedical records based on formal privacy and security methods, according to Kantarcioglu, who is also director of the Data Security and Privacy Lab in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at UT Dallas.

He is working closely with the project’s principal investigator, Dr. Brad Malin, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Funded by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the four-year project  has three primary objectives:

  • To build a tool to integrate research participants’ biomedical records from disparate organizations without compromising participants’ anonymity.
  • To construct methods to securely collect, store and analyze biomedical data without revealing individual records.
  • To detect and prevent policy violations that can arise as a consequence of investigator queries to the databank.

The final product will enable disparate researchers to submit information to a centralized biomedical databank, where scientists can analyze the stored records and administrators can monitor the system for privacy violations.

“We are very pleased about this very prestigious award,” said Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research Center. “NIH is a new sponsor for us, and Murat’s research on privacy is critical for many biomedical applications, including electronic health-care records and genomic databases.”

The award also expands the cyber security center’s sponsor base, which includes the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the Office of Naval Research, NASA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]

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Mark Kantarcioglu

Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu believes his work could ultimately enable health care to be personalized to each patient’s genome.

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January 21, 2019