Scientists are one step closer in harnessing the power of whole-genome sequencing to solve the mysteries of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition that is affecting more than 3 million individuals in the United States and costing our economy an estimated $268 billion annually. In April the advocacy organization Autism Speaks announced that its project to create the world's largest genomic database on autism is more than halfway complete.
Known as MSSNG and pronounced "missing," in reference to the many unanswered questions about the disorder, the project calls for sequencing the DNA of 10,000 families where one or more members is affected by autism. It is an open-source research project, meaning that any qualified researcher anywhere in the world can access the data, which was developed in conjunction with Google and Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
The internet giant is housing research data in an open cloud database, allowing scientists worldwide to mine the massive amount of data on the genome and collaborate and share their findings.
The timing of this initiative is critical, considering that the national economic cost of autism — including direct medical, direct non-medical and productivity costs — is skyrocketing. That number is expected to rise to $461 billion by 2025, according to a study funded in part by Autism Speaks.