Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki, has a genetic testing startup — and it might have made a discovery that could save his life.
23andMe, a privately held genetic testing startup, announced today that it has identified a gene that could reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination. Individuals with the LRRK2 variation in their genetic code have a 50-50 chance of developing Parkinson’s disease, Wojcicki said. 23andMe found that some individuals without the disease but with the LRRK2 variation had another gene that could reduce the risk of Parkinson’s in individuals with the LRRK2 variation.
“It’s spectacular, my husband has this variation called LRRK 2,” she said.
Academics “jaws dropped” when they found out 23andMe had made a discovery of that calibre, she said. That’s because most pharmaceutical companies keep data close to the chest so they retain a competitive advantage over other companies, she said.
“Through the research is the first time that consumers having participant driven research, we’ve been able to identify the gene SGK1 that looks like it’s a modifier and protecting against LRRK2 (a gene associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s),” 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki said. “The community has been so successful that in such a short time frame we found something that could be a modifier that could lead to a druggable target.”
Wojcicki said it’s the first time a consumer-driven company has made a significant medical discovery like this. The company found the gene by collecting information from multiple individuals that were susceptible to the disease but were asymptomatic, and analysing their genetic code.
“The challenge of health care has always been these fiefdoms and no one wants to share because they have their own data, but that’s what we can disrupt,” she said. “The consumer has never been embowered, but we all have the potential to own our data and say ‘I don’t want to wait for pharma to come up with Parkinson’s.'”