Laboratory for Communications and Applications LCA

Genomic Privacy and Security

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The spectacular drop in the cost of genome sequencing is paving the way to personalized health. Diagnoses will improve, treatments will be more appropriately applied, and medicine will be increasingly preventive. However, the impact on privacy and security is unprecedented, because (i) genetic data can be used to identify individuals (ii) genetic diseases can be unveiled, (iii) the propensity to develop specific diseases (such as Alzheimer's) can be revealed, (iv) a volunteer accepting de facto to have his genome made public (already the case) can leak substantial information about their ethnic heritage and the genomic data of their relatives (possibly against their will), and (v) complex privacy issues can arise if DNA analysis is used for criminal investigations and insurance purposes. Such issues could lead to genetic discrimination (e.g., ancestry discrimination or discrimination due to geographic mapping of people). Even though legislation such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the US Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) aim at mitigating the risks of such discrimination, it is clear that genomes also need to be protected by technical means.

At EPFL, we are working on different aspects of genomic privacy and security with strong collaboration with geneticists and other specialists. We focus, in particular, on the following main research directions:

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