Google Founder Tries to Crack Parkinson's Genetic Code With Crowdsourcing

By Eliza Strickland | March 13, 2009 7:05 pm

Sergey BrinPlaying true to form, Google cofounder Sergey Brin is launching an ambitious, expensive effort using unorthodox tactics, but this time he’s taking on Parkinson’s research. In cooperation with the personal genetics testing company 23andMe, which was cofounded by Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki, Brin is hoping to get 10,000 Parkinson’s patients to fill out online questionnaires and get their genomes scanned. To encourage participation, 23andMe will provide the DNA scan for $25, a fraction of the normal $399 price. Brin, who says he has an elevated risk of Parkinson’s, will contribute the bulk of the money for the study, although he declined to disclose the total costs.

Wojcicki says that getting full genetic information for so many patients could reveal genetic patterns to the disease, which has already been linked to a handful of genes. “We want to try and find out if there are other genetic variations that are associated with Parkinson’s or with rapid progression or slow progression,” said Wojcicki, in a telephone interview yesterday. “Also, why some people respond well to therapy, some people don’t, and some develop resistance faster” [Bloomberg]. 

Some Parkinson’s experts say the experiment will be a valuable contribution, since full genomic studies are not usually conducted on such a large scale. But geneticist Sarah Murray, says a potential problem with the study was that the participants would report their symptoms, rather than being examined and interviewed by a doctor. That could mean the data might be of poor quality [The New York Times].

Brin himself disclosed last September that a genetic mutation means he is far more susceptible to contracting the disease than others, even as his mother, Eugenia Brin, already has the disease.  His discovery was made after submitting a sample of his DNA to his wife’s company. At the time, he was quietly criticized in some circles for using his own personal health issues to further the interest in his wife’s company, in which Google is also an early investor [CNBC]. The publicity surrounding the Parkinson’s study is certain to give 23andMe a further boost.

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DISCOVER: Agony of Parkinson’s Eased by Ecstasy?

Image: Wikimedia Commons / James Duncan Davidson

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Mike Williamson

    This is a great idea! It is a classic example of how new thinking and approaches can disrupt old staid thinking. Recall how one man in Australia changes the entire world around peptic ulcers, and you’ll see the potential of Brin’s idea. Go Brin Go!

  • Martha Heinz

    I am 55 years old and have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s since 2005 but my illness does not fit the usual pattern. I still work full time. Progression is slow, and I am not a L-Dopa drug regime, just anti-depressant patch and a low dose of clonazapam for the tremor. My biggest obstacle has been my left leg and foot will stiffen and I have developed a limp which I am working on in Physical therapy. I have had some falls due to this lack of coordinated gait rather than balance which scores great. My question is if Parkinson’s is a disease created my modern pesticides or contaminants invading the brain barrier, does it still require a predisposition to Parkinson’s to develop the disease? When I went to a early onset support group a few years ago, of the 6 women present, five grew up on farms (exposure to pesticides) and only one had a parent or relative with Parkinson’s. I am the youngest of a family of six siblings and I am the only one showing symptoms. Which I find odd as the other five experienced as much or more exposure to pesticides as I did. There is no one relative that has had this illness. Can we test for chemicals in the body that may create Parkinson’s Disease or does this disease always start with from a genetic base?

  • James Lyons-Weiler

    Would those critical of this important initiative would prefer him to stay silent, do nothing, and let those who suffer from Parkinson’s continue to suffer needlessly?

    I mean, what possibly could they have to gain by criticizing him?

    The cruelty of some people in the name of competition is astonishing.

    By the way, it’s his money.

    I hope they discover ways to mediate the suffering of Parkison’s patients. The risk genes might only indicate correlative markers for risk; a study of the mechanisms of progression of the disease is also needed.

    Best of luck, Brin.


  • Dakk

    I hope this helps develop a cure.
    But, how could people bad-mouth him for using his wife’s company after he found out he’s susceptible? It’s common sense. I invested in my brother’s remodeling company and I hire him, at regular rates, when I need some work done around my house. Its not the same thing but it is the same type of circumstance. You go to the people you trust the most.

  • Jonathan

    Hi all
    I think the comment that patients should be ideally interviewed by doctors is “more of the restrictive thinking that hampers efforts like Brin’s, many doctors (partially due to the internet) know less about PD than the patients.

    Secondly I had shakey handwriting which went on for 25 years until slow right hand and heavy right hand and unexplained anxiety fear of bad weather especially thunderstorms etc when sailing,,,,— etc etc then “diagnosed” now on stalevo + sinamet + symmetril quite succesful with minimum quantities (can still play the organ) an development is (touch wood ) slow if at all leading me to think that slow progress “unrecognised) may fortel slow progress recognised. Also —for what it’s worth—–I used to notoceably walk on my toes as a child


  • Kelsy Bakerfield

    wow , great information will bookmark this


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