Category Archives: genome

They are changing the face of education globally

I checked out Coursera’s course offerings and I have to admit they have a great lineup of quality courses. I signed up for “Introduction to Logic” from Stanford which begins soon so I could evaluate the process and quality of delivery, plus I am somewhat interested in logic. Then I signed up for “Introduction to Genome Science” from University of Pennsylvania for a fun refresher to my MS in Bioinformatics where my thesis was “Security of Our Personal Genome”. Purely continuing education but what a huge market that could be. You do realize this is wave 2 of open courseware. Coursera’s quote: We are changing the face of education globally, and we invite you to join us. Let’s assume Coursera is able to competently deliver these courses to any number of students. And let’s assume their student assessment techniques allow them to validate that learning took place. They have the prestigious of elite institutions of higher education. What does this mean?

What if a year from now millions of people are successfully completing courses through Coursera, Udacity and probably other copycat competitors. First Coursera is going to be worth billions and second a benchmark will be established that will define what is a quality online course. What will this benchmark mean? It will eliminate the argument that legitimate For-Profit online providers lack in quality. But more important it will validate the other argument that many of the online courses from traditional non-profit institutions are not worth the bandwidth you are wasting on them. So what does this mean for most of us (higher education)? Our online or blended offerings which we realize we must offer will have to be of similar quality to the free offerings from the Coursera’s of the world. We will have a benchmark. And then we just worry about holding on to our control of accreditation for validating what is a college degree and what is it worth. I am thankful that we will still have the value of the campus experience, but again, what will it be worth.

Update July 17, 2012 – More research universities join Coursera

Be Cautious of Your Personal DNA Report

Hot topic on the news wire lately is the over-the-counter availability of “Your Personal DNA Report” from Pathway Genomics. This service involves sending in a saliva sample to a “Certified Lab” where comprehensive genotype testing will be performed regardless of your decision to order a report at additional cost. The first concern here is that the comprehensive genotyping data will be stored by Pathway Genomics. The second concern is that you believe that storage record is anonymous.

So why am I talking about this. Only because these things dredge up all the predictions and fears that I had in writing my 2003 thesis, “Security of Your Personal Genome” for my MS in Bioinformatics. I do think it is dangerous for us to venture down this path. I’m not sure we should tread so close to God like knowledge. But my real fear is that if a record of your genome exists, the risk of it getting into the wrong hands is not worth the knowledge it may bring you. As for anonymous, wrong, if your genomic information is compromised or is shared, and it could be under this “anonymous” label. It is not difficult for today’s search algorithms to match characteristics from the genome with say protein results from a past blood test or maybe your family tree had a certain trend toward a disease. One little link of information is enough to complete a match to you. So with the direction health care is going I would not want an insurer or an employer to be able to make a calculated estimate about my health future. Of course I might be OK since my grandfather lived to be 102 and my dad who is 95 expects to beat that mark. Just be careful and really think about how you control or protect your personal genome, it is your ultimate ID.

May 18, 2010 – Unbelievable – UC Berkeley having incoming freshman submit to a DNA analysis to stimulate discussion about nutrition.

May 28th – Unwinding Berkeley’s DNA Test, InSide HigherED article.

August 13 – The California Department of Public Health demands that Berkeley change its freshman DNA experiment. Double Helix Trouble, InSide HigherED article.

Could our Mobile Device be the Key to our Privacy?

I was contemplating the possibilities for how our mobile computing devices could serve as forms of identity. It is an electronic device that we control, that could offer personal validation; it could provide proximity authorization via various transmission modes; it is a repository that can be used to provide any type of information about us, etc, etc. So what are some possibilities for managing our identity information on our mobile device? There are some personal health record apps for the iPhone and of course numerous personal financial apps. What about our ultimate personal identity?

What if our personal mobile computing device served as an access control key to our genetic map, our personal genome? I bring this up because back in 2003 when I was finishing up my MS in Bioinformatics I designed the schema for a National Health Database. The concept worked from a National ID as a starting point for accessing or referencing all data that would be important for a personal health record. The ultimate challenge that I did not have a real answer for was the access control needed for the highest security, our personal genetic map, our DNA code. The design was based on this data being encrypted from inception with access based on a personal digital key that could be used to activate de-encryption when used in conjunction with an authorized medical professional’s digital key. At the time I could only imagine some sort of smartcard or embedded chip, but I was hung up on communication. I kind of saw it as 2 people with keys needed to launch a nuclear missile. But now I think it may be possible to design a scheme that works from a mobile computing device that might allow us to build this National Health Database. The mobile device is key for its ability to allow the patient to authorize access to their medical information with remote flexibility. Biometrics will probably be involved, but could a mobile device provide a privacy solution?

By the way, my thesis was titled “Security of Our Personal Genome”.

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