Genetic Future

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has discovered that he carries a genetic variant associated with a fairly serious increase in Parkinson’s disease risk.

Brin found out about the variant through a 23andMe genome scan (Brin is married to 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki, so I’m sure he gets to play with the company’s toys as much as he wants). He announced his result on his new personal blog, TOO; 23andMe’s blog The Spittoon has some additional details.

The variant in question is a mutation called G2019S in the LRRK2 gene, which has been reported in a large number of families with members suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Not all carriers of the mutation go on to develop the disease, but the studies suggest that the variant increases the risk of contracting the illness by the age of 70 by somewhere between 20 and 80% – pretty unpleasant odds (although it should be noted that studies to date suffer from small sample sizes, so the risk estimate is far from rock-solid).

Brin’s mother, who has already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, also carries the mutation.

Brin seems pretty philosophical about the finding:

This leaves me in a rather unique position. I know early in my life something I am substantially predisposed to. I now have the opportunity to adjust my life to reduce those odds (e.g. there is evidence that exercise may be protective against Parkinson’s). I also have the opportunity to perform and support research into this disease long before it may affect me. And, regardless of my own health it can help my family members as well as others.

Of course, it’s probably easier to be philosophical about genetic disease risk findings when things like health long-term care insurance costs aren’t really an issue…

(Thanks to a reader for pointing out that long-term care insurance is a bigger issue here than health insurance, since LTC insurance is not covered by the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act.)


  1. #1 Henk Visscher
    September 21, 2008

    The question is however, did Mr Brin learn anything new? Since his mother was already suffering from Parkinson’s, he could already know that he is at risk too.

  2. #2 zayzayem
    September 22, 2008

    Hope your arrival has been safe.

    I read this story, and I thought it would be interesting to consider exactly how “philanthropical” Brin’s donations to Parkinsons charities can really be considered. He is basically trying to get something to save his own ass… a la South Park’s Christopher Reeves?

    Even more insidious. Could gene scans for you-got-X risk factors be used as scare campaign tactics to get the funds? (Not that I’m really against getting more money for medical charities)

  3. #3 Robert V Sobczak
    October 1, 2008

    Henk makes a good point. But more broadly, and right up Google’s alley: sometimes too much information is a bad thing.

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