Google co-founder’s trawl of 23andme reveals risk of Parkinson’s

19 Sep 2008

The Russia-born co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, has revealed in his personal blog how he discovered through his wife’s genetics site – 23andMe – that he himself stands a high risk of contracting Parkinson’s Disease at some stage in his lifetime.

Last year, Google invested US$3.9m in 23andMe, an emerging biotechnology firm started by Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki.

In Brin’s personal blog, he revealed how his mother, a NASA worker, discovered she had Parkinson’s Disease after many different visits to various specialists.

Brin, who started Google with co-founder Larry Page when they were students at Stanford University 10 years ago this month, didn’t believe that Parkinson’s could be a hereditary disease.

“Nonetheless, there are some cases of familial Parkinson’s but they are quite rare. Over the past few years, researchers have been honing in on the genes that are responsible for those cases. One gene that stands out in those studies is LRRK2. There is one particular mutation of the LRRK2 gene – known as G2019S – that, while rare even among people with the disease, accounts in some ethnic groups, for a substantial proportion of familial Parkinson’s.”

His trawl of 23andMe discovered that his genetic risk for most diseases is modestly lower than average, but for some diseases it is modestly higher.

At a time when other high-tech notables such as Steve Jobs of Apple, have had health fears widely reported in such as way as to affect the company’s stock price, Brin appears to be using his discovery as a way of drawing attention to Parkinson’s Disease.

He treated his journey of discovery as a hypothetical exercise and looked up a mutation of the LRRKR gene responsible for Parkinson’s and discovered that he indeed carried the same G2019S mutation.

“It is clear that I have a markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson’s in my lifetime than the average person. In fact, it is somewhere between 20pc to 80pc, depending on the study and how you measure.”

Brin is philosophical about his discovery, realising that he is perfect health today but can be prepared for what may come in later years. He has decided to perform and support research in to the disease.

“Until the fountain of youth is discovered, all of us will have some conditions in our old age, only we don’t know what they will be. I have a better guess than almost anyone else for what ills may be mine – and I have decades to prepare for it,” he wrote.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Google co-founder, Sergey Brin

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years