23andMe makes another breakthrough on Parkinson’s research

Google-backed biotech startup 23andMe has made a discovery about Parkinson’s disease — for the second time — that may help identify a person’s risk of developing the debilitating and tragic illness.

23andMe, a Mountain View genomics company that offers consumers genetic reports to track their ancestry, helped conduct a massive study that looked for genetic links to Parkinson’s in 13,708 patients with the disease and 95,282 healthy people. 23andMe contributed about two-thirds of that data from its own research on people with and without Parkinson’s. In all, researchers looked at 7.9 million genetic variants.

The group of researchers identified six new specific gene locations on chromosomes — called loci — that have known associations with Parkinson’s disease. The “risk profile analysis showed substantial cumulative risk,” for Parkinson’s in people with those six loci, according to the results, published Sunday in the scientific journal Nature.

In 2011, 23andMe published a study that found two new genetic associations with the disease, including one near a gene involved with pathways associated with Parkinson’s.

23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki’s’s husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, has a genetic makeup that put him at risk of developing Parkinson’s in as little as 10 years. Brin began donating to Parkinson’s research in 2005, and has since donated more than $130 million, mostly through the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, to help create a DNA database of 7,000 patients and to support research on the genetic causes of the movement disorder, according to Bloomberg.

Founded in 2006, 23andMe rose to popularity by selling saliva kits that people could use to do their own genetic testing at home and find out their personal health risks, but in November the Food and Drug Administration banned that product. The startup is fighting that ban and says it is working out a deal with the FDA, although it has not offered a timetable. The company has raised more than $110 million.


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