This week, Autism Speaks launched the MSSNG initiative, a campaign which will support the development of what is expected to be the largest sequencing of whole genomes of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. MSSNG’s objective is to help develop a database of 10,000 individual’s genomes and put them on Google’s cloud in an effort to gain a greater understanding of autism.
“Pronounced ‘missing,’ the name has vowels deliberately omitted to represent the missing pieces of the autism puzzle. It is symbolic of the missing information about autism that the project is designed to find. The campaign will enable discoveries that promise advances in medical care and quality-of-life for those struggling with autism and their families.”
Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization which teamed up with Google this summer. Previously coined the Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Program (AUT10K), the genome project has been rebranded as MSSNG, according to Fierce Biotech.
Some in the autism community are unhappy with Autism Speaks’ decision to rebrand the project, and with Autism Speaks in general, though.
— AutismAcceptanceDay (@AutismAcceptDay) December 11, 2014
— Kathryn Hedges (@BiolArtist) December 12, 2014
The new genome database, according to Autism Speaks, will be made freely available to researchers.
“I don’t think there is a database as complete and big as this one anywhere in life sciences,” Rob Ring, the chief science officer at Autism Speaks, boasted to The Washington Post. So far, he says Autism Speaks has sequenced 1,000 genomes and it has twice that on their way. As the goal, Autism Speaks will sequence 10,000 whole human genomes, but Ring already has talked about setting the goal at 100,000.
Google, of course, also has its own human genome database plans as well. Google Genomics will make it easier than ever for researchers to search for genome sequences or variations, in much the same way we google our everyday search terms.
“Whether or not this data leads to treatment, we can’t say for sure,” Matthew Higgins, the chairman of MSSNG and father to a child with autism, explained, “But it’s certainly going to lead to answers.”