Google-backed firm crowdsources Parkinson's research

Gene-testing company 23andMe, backed by Google and run by Ann Wojcicki, Google cofounder Sergey Brin's wife, is experimenting with a new mode of Internet-based research and its first target is Parkinson's disease. (No surprise, since Brin recently announced that he is predisposed to developing the disease.)

The plan is to collect 10,000 spit samples and questionnaires from people across the Internet suffering from Parkinson's. And armed with all that data, 23andMe hopes to identify more of the genes that predispose people to the disease, and eventually, more promising treatments.

According to Bloomberg, the company is offering to test participants for just $25 vs. the regular $399 fee. And the more participants, the merrier. As Wojcicki says:

“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. Also, why some people respond well to therapy, some people don’t, and some develop resistance faster.”

23andMe is conducting the research in partnership with the Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, Calif., and the Michael J. Fox foundation in New York. Together, the groups will study the samples and questionnaires to perform a genome-wide association study that aims to identify common patterns and associate them with the different forms of the disease. Because of the lack of good data on Parkinson's, Wojcicki feels crowdsourcing is the logical way to go.

The idea, she said, is to use the Internet to accelerate progress in understanding and treating the disease. “We’re very frustrated with the pace of research discoveries and we felt one way to accelerate it would be to empower individuals and form communities and self-create a research cohort,” she said. “We also believe we are really democratizing research in a new way.”

Brin seems sold. He reportedly is subsidizing the reduced cost for the gene testing, although 23andMe declined to provide his overall investment.

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