Teaming up with Google to find autism cause
June 10th, 2014
04:52 PM ET

Teaming up with Google to find autism cause

The cause of autism is still unknown, but researchers hope harnessing the power of Google will help them solve this neurodevelopmental puzzle.

The research and advocacy group Autism Speaks announced Tuesday they are collaborating with the Google Cloud Platform to build the largest autism genome database to date. The collaboration, known as The Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Program (AUT10K), will combine extensive DNA databases with cloud storage technology, in hopes of moving mountains in autism research, according to a press release.

Autism Speaks believes the AUT10K program holds the potential to radically transform ASD genomics research. “Working with Google is a game-changer,” said Rob Ring, who is the organization’s chief science officer.

This collaboration is part of a larger movement in the medical field to use big data to speed research efforts. IBM's supercomputer Watson, for instance, is helping oncologists find treatments for a rare aggressive brain cancer in partnership with the New York Genome Center.

Autism Speaks has already donated 12,000 DNA samples, which members describe as the “the largest private collection” with diagnostic and specific genetic information. The organization says the collaboration with Google will allow them to provide researchers access to what will eventually be huge amounts of data. This, in turn, should help researchers find connections between patients faster.

Zachary Warren, director of Vanderbilt University’s autism research institute,  says in order to understand the vast developmental and behavioral differences linked to ASD, more powerful platforms to analyze genetic data are needed.

“Only by understanding autism risk can we begin to develop treatments that target not just the symptoms but the root causes of autism spectrum disorder," his colleague and genetic autism researcher Dr. Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele said in agreement.

The number of children with autism has continued to go up over the past decades, as have the costs for caring for someone with ASD.

Earlier this year, the CDC reported that 1 in 68 children in the United States has autism.  A new study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, estimates the lifetime cost of supporting an individual with ASD can be up to $2.4 million.

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Jan

    Not "the cause" but more of the "causes"– autism is a broad spectrum disorder with multiple causal factors that can be involved.

    June 10, 2014 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bones

      Says you. Everyone is a scientist when it comes to Autism. You say this so convincingly. You may be right, but it just annoys me how everyone is an authority on such a mysterious medical condition.

      June 10, 2014 at 18:39 | Report abuse |
    • Aeon the Terrible

      Nope! There is one cause of Autism and it could be easily prevented and reversed. However, there is NO money in the prevention, to the Medical Industry, and the cure has been declared illegal by ignorance, State by State!

      June 11, 2014 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
    • AutisticGuy

      There is no cure to autism, as it is a developmental disorder. A cure would have to reverse time back to birth, modify some genes, and then replay. Not sure if that technology really exists yet.

      June 12, 2014 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
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      June 12, 2014 at 22:23 | Report abuse |
    • ChemE

      Our country is pulsing and transmitting over a billion watts of microwave, Doppler, RF & TV electromagnetic radiation 24/7 through all biology. Maybe we should start looking there for a cause. Research @ darkmattersalot

      June 13, 2014 at 09:25 | Report abuse |
  2. Defting

    G00gle wants the cause to be the internet, lol, so they can offer a remedy and make more money for doing nothing, which will not occur...

    The Asian's have deemed too much technology "Digital dementia" for the last two years, and at the same time the DSM revisions were rescinded and displaced for diagnosis for the same two years.

    When psychology becomes public opinion it is no longer with competent restraint as it would then be simple "hearsay."

    Why does autism need a cause, as perhaps it is a natural, and health response?

    June 10, 2014 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Janice

    An area that needs to be researched is the autism rate in a control group of women who decline all ultrasound during pregnancy. Because of an autism scare from bogus/debunked research on an autism link with immunization, we now have quite a lot of people declining immunizations. This does cause harm as children do get these diseases. For low risk pregnancies, no harm is done when ultrasound is declined. If you had a sizeable group of women who chose to be in this group (and who could opt out of that choice if risk factors made a change necessary), the difference in the autism rate between this group and the general population could be looked at when the children were about 3-4 years old, as the most obvious cases of autism would be apparent by then. The safety of prenatal ultrasound has never been proven, only assumed. If someone could prove there is a link here, they would have research worthy of a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Lives are being badly harmed by autism spectrum disorder.....oll over every single stone to find the cause.

    June 10, 2014 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AgonySpins

      My wife had ultrasounds, and my son had immunizations but still in 2008 at 28 months old he was diagnosed with classic autism.
      I'm sorry but I hear these pet theories sprouted all the time, and it'd be exhausting except having an autistic child makes you exhausted already.

      June 10, 2014 at 19:59 | Report abuse |
    • Larry L

      That actually sounds like an interesting research project using animal models. I wonder if that's been attempted? It may at least create interest if some relationship was indicated. Could a person detect autism in laboratory animals?

      June 10, 2014 at 20:12 | Report abuse |
    • Don

      According to the CDC the amount of people getting vaccinated remains about the same and with some vaccines has actually increased. We're all aware that the Andrew Wakefield study was a sham and anyways statistically it never even reduced the amount of vaccines that children were receiving.

      June 10, 2014 at 20:26 | Report abuse |
    • Janet Tillman

      I have heard speculation about a correlation in the rise in autism and the increase in prenatal ultrasounds being done. And I can add an anecdotal note that with our second child there were concerns that caused us to opt for additional ultrasounds rather than an amnio (which has increased risk of miscarriage that an ultrasound does not). And our second child – who was subject to the additional ultrasounds – has ASD. That may be coincidental, it may be causal, but it is worth investigating.

      June 11, 2014 at 10:32 | Report abuse |
    • Amy in Virginia

      Interesting, but I have doubts about the correlation. I have 3 children. My oldest, my only son, has Asperger's. I only had one ultrasound with him. My middle child, a daughter, does not have ASD. I had a placenta previa & needed multiple ultrasounds during my pregnancy with her. My youngest child, also a daughter, also no ASD, only required one ultrasound during my pregnancy. All 3 children received the same vaccinations at the same ages. My youngest daughter shares many of the same physical traits as my son & although she doesn't have the same social challenges, she is most like my son with her hypersensitivities & can be shy. Both of them were born after 40 weeks – him @ 42 weeks & her @ 41.5 weeks. They both have IQ's in the gifted range as well. BTW – I received full prenatal care & took daily prenatal vitamins. My point? I think the greatest link is genetics and how humans are wired. I think there is a neurological link & I believe that society is just more aware of ASD. I believe that it has always existed, but was assumed to be something else or overlooked or dismissed. I think this is especially true of the high functioning ASD – the Aspies – like my boy. He would have likely be considered shy, introverted, and socially awkward – perhaps even "quirky" – by my parent's generation. JMHO.

      June 12, 2014 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
  4. WTH

    Google becoming Big Brother?

    June 10, 2014 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Maggie - Nashville

    Nice article .

    June 10, 2014 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Don

    Sounds nice but the cause of autism is not in genetics. If it were then the levels of autism would have remained relatively constant. Sure genetics play a role in autism just like they do with everything else with our bodies, but we need to focus on the actual cause and not genetics which couldn't be altered even if we did find the genes that were "responsible."

    Seems to be that the cause is stemming from things in our environment. For example did you know that having a cat or dog in your home that is bathed using flea shampoos increasing your child's risk of ASD by 50%. That's crazy, but still perfectly allowable by the FDA. It's toxins like this I feel our building up in our systems and once they reach a critical mass in children you end up with ASD.

    June 10, 2014 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa

      Where did you get the statistic about flea shampoos?

      June 10, 2014 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      I'd like to know about that statistic as well. And where is the evidence that "these things are building up"?

      June 11, 2014 at 08:58 | Report abuse |
    • Amy in Virginia

      If that was the case, then wouldn't all children exposed to the same chemicals have Autism? At the very least, all the children in the same household would end up autistic. Then bring age into the equation. Wouldn't chemical exposure affect humans across the age spectrum? Why just young children? Why do ASD present themselves differently at different ages?

      I have 3 children, only my son has an ASD. I've brought them up the same, in the same home, with the same prenatal care, vaccines, medical care, etc. My son's hyper & hypo sensitivities were present from the day he was born when he had difficulty feeding. Neither of my daughters have this. How is that not genetic?

      June 12, 2014 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
    • TerminalSanity

      Really no way that it can be genetically linked? Then why are boys 3x more likely to have the condition than girl the exact same punnet square ratio seen in other sex linked genetically inherited conditions like color blindness? That fact not only heavily implies a genetic factor but it also identifies the likely triggering genetic factors are somewhere on the X chromosome.

      June 12, 2014 at 18:08 | Report abuse |
  7. Grandpa

    JimInAlabama, I have two autistic grandsons who are among the nicest and most polite boys you'll see. They just have trouble managing daily life. Why would "whooping their rear ends" do any good? Please stay in Alabama. No, on second thought, since I'm a native of Alabama, please leave and go to some other country or maybe the moon..

    June 10, 2014 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill In Alaska

      Grandpa: I have a friend, who when asked: "Where are you from, Joyce?" , answers: "L.A.., Lower Alabama,"
      By the way, I agree with your Alabama post.

      June 10, 2014 at 21:11 | Report abuse |
    • You tube it

      You tube "Top Gear Challenge Alabama". Watch the video. You'll find out what the problem with Alabama is.

      June 12, 2014 at 09:41 | Report abuse |
  8. Grandpa

    Don, I have a good friend with fraternal twin grandsons. One is autistic; the other is not. They grew up in the same environment so what happened here? Since they are fraternal twins, they don't share all the same genes. Seems like an interesting case study for genetic research.

    June 10, 2014 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don

      Yes, twins would be interesting to study. Just because they grew up in the same house doesn't mean they have come into contact with all the same environmental factors. That is interesting though, Grandpa.

      June 10, 2014 at 20:54 | Report abuse |
  9. Sammie

    I have 3 kids and am pregnant with my 4th. My oldest daughter has autism but my other daughter and son don't and they all had their vaccines on time. With this pregnancy I'm watching what I eat and the products I use since I am older now and don't know why my oldest is the one who got it. I will get vaccines for this child. I would rather deal with autism then a disease that use to not be around.

    June 10, 2014 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Kim

    Autism research has not been successful to date because they are overlooking the obvious. There is something that pregnant women are doing voluntarily, that everyone thinks is safe, that is the cause. Something like formula, pre-natal vitamins, or coffee.

    When there are bold changes in outcomes the most likely determinants are peoples' behavior.

    June 10, 2014 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      Where do you get the idea that any of those behaviors have been overlooked as possible causes? How do you account for the fact that none of those particular behaviors are found to be common to all cases of autism?

      Your assumptions are ridiculous. Just because we don't yet know the cause doesn't mean the research has been unsuccessful. And just because the number of autistic kids is rising doesn't mean that behaviors "must" be the cause. It is far more likely that people are more likely to recognize the symptoms of autism due to increased awareness and are more likely to seek a diagnosis now.

      Attempting to pin blame on some behavior that "everyone thinks is safe" is simply not reasonable.

      June 11, 2014 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
    • ann

      I have read some research that suggests it could be related to anti-depressant usage during pregnancy. However, the research is still too thin to show it as a cause. However, it does sound logical that it could be a potential cause in some instances. I am not fully convinced that all parts of the autism spectrum are attributable to the exact same things.

      June 11, 2014 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      One example is it used to be considered safe, even healthy to practice sunbathing. After enough years, the number of cases of skin cancer got high enough that you could do good analysis.

      I haven't read all the research just what gets reported. I have gone online searching for good information.

      My son is high functioning ASD and will finish 2nd grade this week. I'm open to good analysis.

      My wife and I had 3 children in 4 years a while back. The experience of the pregnancies and infant care leaves me feeling there is plenty of room for error.

      Especially since a vast number of US families have no children or 1 child, the "market" for no fuss pregnancies and follow-up is ignored to some extent.

      June 11, 2014 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      So you don't really have anything in the way of a science-based source for your conclusions, then, Kim? Thanks. That's what I figured.

      June 12, 2014 at 09:13 | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      Well I have social science based evidence. When there are big demographic shifts, eventually there is at least one behavior variables that is a major driver.

      I think the skin cancer example is scientific, too, there is a link between sun burns and cancer incidence. That's medical science.

      Before something becomes a science fact there are years of research to find causal links. That's clearly where we're at with autism research, looking for the causal links.

      June 12, 2014 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      You are assuming that the only possible "causal links" are behaviors. That is simply not a valid assumption. You haven't answered the question as to whether your suppositions about possible causes like caffeine, etc., have been studied. Assuming that there "must" be something "we're doing" that is thought to be harmless is just not reasonable. There is far more evidence that genes are involved. Not behavior.

      June 12, 2014 at 19:31 | Report abuse |
    • Ky Mucha

      Totally agree with you!! What about all the drugs they give women during labor so the hospital doesn’t have to deal with crazy women in labor pain cussing and swearing at them. There is a list of them including “Phentenol” which I misspelled. They gave this to my daughter after asking her as soon as she walked in if she was in any pain. She said she was not. Then they said that she looked nervous. Do you want us to take the edge off. Of course she said yes. They gave it to her in a drip so she could press a button, in addition to the spinal block. I know this contributed to my grandson having respiratory problems and sweating 24 hr a day! Otherwise I think it is happening because Doctors won’t come in to deliver babies in the middle of the night. My daughter was ready and they made her hold off for 7 hours until the doctor came in at 8 am. He was late so baby was born at 8:30. Ever wonder why all baby are delivered in the early am and never in the middle of the night except in emergency situations? Another thing.... it could be wine or coffee or sugar but we will not know because women will not be truthful about what they did or did not do in pregnancy for fear of being judged. Same way they are with raising their child. No one wants to admit things and best example is sids. All because Moms would not tell the truth everyone has to suffer by putting their babies on their backs and giving them flat head syndrome.. it is so ridiculous!

      March 13, 2019 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
  11. Diane

    This article is talking about a cloud-based DNA database without even mentioning potential privacy issues? Are they getting patient consent before uploading their DNA data?

    June 11, 2014 at 00:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jessica

    I have 22 month old fraternal twin boys. One is autistic and the other is not. It was clear from very early on that they were very different. I don't believe there is a link to immunizations or other environmental factors in the child's life. I think if anything it has to do with chromosomal changes to mom or dad's eggs and sperm due to environmental factors. Not something that is triggered after birth.

    June 11, 2014 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kiria Croix

    I've always thought it was the proliferation of cell phone use and wireless technology; apparently, I'm not the only one.


    June 11, 2014 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Janet Tillman

      Though there may be unknown effects of growing cell phone use, I don't think you can pin the rise in autism to that as the increase predates the existence – not to mention the widespread use of – cell phones. It would also not explain why more boys than girls have ASD unless it is specifically the X chromosome that is affected and girls can offset that with their Y.

      June 11, 2014 at 12:35 | Report abuse |
    • localhost

      My wife's theory is that it correlates with the rise of self-service gas stations and the skin absorption of gas. It's just our theory.

      June 14, 2014 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      If that theory (about gas and self-service pumps) held any water, then why wasn't autism common among gas station attendants 40 years ago, when most people didn't pump their own gas?

      June 15, 2014 at 10:04 | Report abuse |
  14. Elena

    My daughter has a microduplication that came up in unrelated testing. The duplication is small and is on 1q21.1 or the 1st chromosome segment 21.1. There is not an associated disorder with this duplication which is considered rare but even the website rarechromo.org stated there were correlations with autistic like behavior. She has always been a little different and first received services for a speech delay and sensory processing disorder. Now, at the age of 9 after a very thorough psycho-education evaluation she has been diagnosed with mild autism and ADHD. I believe these sorts of microduplications and microdeletions are responsible for part of the increase in autism cases. The major reason for de novo genetic changes is environmental toxins. We have surrounded ourselves with mutagenic and teratogenic toxins that are causing embryonic changes in the child prior to birth.

    June 11, 2014 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. mom

    Autism is caused by toxins in the mother, mainly the gut. An imbalanced or unhealthy gut flora has bad consequences. With ample junk food, chemicals, radiation, medication, these days there are so many chances to hurt the fetus. A mother needs to do all she can to protect her health and minimize exposure to toxins. Dads count, too! They should follow healthy eating and living guidelines, too. Back in the day, people ate real food. And exposure to so many new and prolific chemicals wasn't as widespread.

    June 11, 2014 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Keith

      I have autism, and I was born in 1946, long before "junk food", long before many of the vaccinations and medications now being used. How do we explain that? I think my parents' age was the main factor.

      June 12, 2014 at 04:15 | Report abuse |
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      So you are the sage who's discovered the cause of autism!!! My God, someone get this woman a Nobel!

      How is it that you come to this knowledge? Have you run studies? Can you cite them? Books don't count. Neither do articles in "Natural News" and other "health" publications. Post the sources that you have read that led you to this conclusion. Then explain why autism has been around since long before junk food. And explain why, when our health is vastly better than that of any other generation in history, autism would be related to "toxins." What "toxins"?

      June 12, 2014 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
  16. SixDegrees

    Too bad there's not even a hint about why genetic research will do anything to advance understanding of autism.

    June 12, 2014 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Greg

    It's the vaccines!!

    June 12, 2014 at 07:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      No. It isn't. There was recently an analysis of SEVEN studies on vaccines and autism. None of the studies show a link. Vaccines don't cause autism.

      June 12, 2014 at 09:11 | Report abuse |
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  19. Tracy

    I saw an immediate change in my son after his MMR shot. May be coincidence but I don't think so because when we tested him three years later his MMR levels were off the chart. In my son's case, I will always believe it was the vaccines

    June 13, 2014 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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