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23andMe Helps Make New Parkinson's Disease Discovery

Monday July 28, 2014

Stephanie M. Lee

SFGate.com - 23andMe, the Google-backed genetic testing startup in Mountain View, has once again helped make a discovery about Parkinson's disease.

In a paper published this week in the scientific journal Nature Genetics, the company was one of more than 50 institutions worldwide that described new genetic risks for Parkinson's disease. In particular, they determined for the first time six loci, or locations of specific genes on chromosomes, to be associated with Parkinson's. The researchers also confirmed two dozen known genetic associations with Parkinson's.

The study was enormous. It looked at 7 million variants in about 13,000 patients with Parkinson's and, for a control group, more than 100,000 people who did not have the disease. 23andMe contributed data from more than 4,000 customers with Parkinson's and about 62,000 without it, all of whom consented to participate in the research.

23andMe runs a community that specifically aims to crowdsource genetic information about Parkinson's. More than 10,000 diagnosed patients, it says, have mailed in DNA samples and answered online questions about their illness in the name of advancing scientific research. In return, the participants can also obtain information about their ancestry and gain access to their raw genetic data. (As of November, 23andMe can no longer sell saliva kits that tell people about their personal health risks, but it is taking steps to win the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval.)

This isn't the first time 23andMe has made a Parkinson's discovery. In a 2011 paper, the company reported that it had found two new genetic associations with the disease, including one near a gene involved with pathways known to be associated with Parkinson's.

Why is 23andMe so interested in Parkinson's? It may be because co-founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki's husband, Google executive Sergey Brin, has a genetic variation that puts him at risk of developing the disease. (The two are separated.) In 2013, the couple gave $32 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.


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