Empiric Logic wins grant to secure data privacy in genomics research

15 Mar 2021

Gareth O’Sullivan, CEO of Empiric Logic. Image: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

The NovaUCD start-up is developing ways to preserve privacy protections and identity while researching human genetics and diseases.

Empiric Logic, a Dublin-based start-up, has received an €85,000 grant to develop new methods of securing data and preserving privacy in genetics research.

The start-up, which is based at NovaUCD and was founded in 2018, is developing an artificial intelligence platform to strip genomics data of its identifying information while maintaining its value for health and disease research.

The grant funding comes from Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Partnership Programme.

Empiric Logic seeks to strike the delicate balance between researching health data and ensuring data protection and privacy. Such personal data can only be used with consent and must fall in line with guidelines and rules put in place by frameworks such as GDPR.

Regulations are always on the mind of researchers when dealing with such sensitive information and the potential it holds.

With this new grant funding, Empiric Logic will collaborate with Dr Sean Ennis of the UCD School of Medicine to explore ways of sharing genomic information while ensuring data protection.

It will examine and design new algorithms and methodologies for collecting genetic data. One of the methods it will look at is ‘simulated representations’, where a simulation of the original data is created that cannot be sourced back to the identity of an individual from the original data.

“Ensuring the privacy and security of sensitive genetic data should be a priority for companies working with this data type,” chief executive Gareth O’Sullivan said. “However encryption, pseudonymisation and other state-of-the-art privacy and security controls might not necessarily prevent individuals from being re-identified from their genetic data.”

As well as ensuring greater privacy protections, the funding will help in developing better analytic processes, he added. The methodology being developed is hoped to make it “impossible to re-identify individuals” from data, according to UCD’s Dr Ennis.

“The data transform aspect of this approach is completely novel and currently not used anywhere,” Ennis said.

The project is recruiting a postdoctoral and a postgraduate researcher to join in the research.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin