Google, Stanford Medicine Collaborate on Clinical Genomics Service

The Google cloud platform will provide the basis of Stanford Medicine's soon-to-be-launched Clinical Genomics Service for early disease detection.

Google cloud, Stanford Medicine

Google's cloud platform technologies will form the basis of a soon-to-be-launched Clinical Genomics Service from Stanford Medicine.

The service will give clinicians and medical researchers at Stanford a way to analyze massive genomic data sets to diagnose certain diseases more quickly and efficiently than possible currently.

The two organizations this week announced a partnership under which they will work together to enable delivery of the new service. The goal is to build a generation of cloud-based applications and tools that will help clinicians do genome analysis at massive scale, Stanford Medicine and Google said in separate releases this week.

"As genome sequencing becomes affordable, more and more patients will be able to benefit from it," Sam Schillace, vice president of engineering at Google's Industry Solutions group, wrote in a blog post. "Modern cloud technology and data science tools can vastly improve analysis methods for genomic data."

Genome sequencing is a process for determining the sequence of nucleotides, or the building blocks that comprise human DNA. Such sequencing can help clinicians identify disease risk in patients early and also their responsiveness to drugs for treating that disease.

In its release, Stanford Medicine, which includes Stanford Health Care, the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford Children's Health, described the Google agreement as key to its plans to deliver a clinical genomics service. The service will let physicians at Stanford order genomic sequencing as part of regular treatment for patients with symptoms that might be gene-related, Stanford Medicine said.

"In the past few years, the amount of available data about health care has exploded," said Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford Medical School "While researchers are learning to integrate this big data, putting it to work for individual patients, in real time, is a huge challenge."

The collaboration announced this week would help address this problem by combining Google's smarts in big data science and cloud technology with Stanford Medicine's expertise in clinical work and health care research.

For Google, the partnership with Stanford is an important validation of its efforts in the genomics space. In 2014 the company launched an ambitious project dubbed the Baseline Study under which it is analyzing a massive set of genomics data to try and see if it can build a picture of what a perfectly healthy human body should look like.

The goal is to help researchers detect conditions such as cancer and heart disease much sooner, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. The company is conducting the study in collaboration with researchers from other organizations, including Stanford and Duke University, The Journal said.

Google also offers its own Google Genomics service for organizations looking to do analysis against petabyte-scale genomic data sets.

Initially, at least, the collaboration announced this week would focus on enabling Stanford's new Clinical Genomics Service. But already there are plans to expand the partnership to other related areas.

According to Schillace, Stanford researchers are already looking to tap Google's cloud and analytics capabilities in areas like machine learning to teach computers to read X-ray and pathology images. Stanford researchers are also looking to see if they can use Google's analytics applications and infrastructure to extract value from the massive volumes of anonymized patient data they have accumulated over the years.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.