Suspected anti-Parkinson's gene spotted in 23andMe database

A genetic finding has triggered research that could lead to a new weapon against Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder in dire need of new therapies. And the discovery has come from a somewhat non-traditional source: the vast personal genetics database of the private company 23andMe.

Mountain View, CA-based 23andMe made its discovery while building a relatively massive database of genetic information on Parkinson's patients, with more than 6,000 people with incurable disease involved in its program. About half of people who carry a mutation on the LRRK2 gene develop Parkinson's, but 23andMe's database showed there were many people with the mutation who don't have the disease. The common thread among these high-risk people who beat the odds was the gene SGK1, which researchers have theorized could protect people from the disease.

The Scripps Research Institute is investigating 23andMe's finding further, with support from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The hope is that the research could produce a valid target for Parkinson's drugs. To be clear, the researchers appear to be at the very early stage of a journey toward a potential Parkinson's treatment.

Yet there's also an interesting personal twist to this story. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose wife Anne Wojcicki is CEO of 23andMe, falls into the high-risk pool for Parkinson's disease, VentureBeat reported. So the Wojcicki's company's discovery hits very close to home. It also strengthens the company's push to get people to participate in research after they buy the firm's personal genetic test. Ninety percent of the company's customers do decide to take part in IRB-approved research, according to the firm.

This finding is another case of the power of having the ability to analyze genetic data on thousands of individuals in a single database.

"The 23andMe Parkinson's initiative has proven the tremendous potential in leveraging DNA technology, the Internet, and patient participation to accelerate findings that enhance our understanding of Parkinson's disease," Todd Sherer, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation, said in a statement.

- here's the release
- see the item from VentureBeat