Saturday, April 25, 2009

PD and MS

Sergey Brin is the brains behind Google. But he's got a "bug" in his brain. From Wikipedia:

In May 2007, Brin married Anne Wojcicki in The Bahamas. Wojcicki is a biotech analyst and a 1996 graduate of Yale University with a B.S. in biology. [4][16] She has an active interest in health information, and together she and Brin are developing new ways to improve access to it. As part of their efforts, they have brainstormed with leading researchers about the human genome project. “Brin instinctively regards genetics as a database and computing problem. So does his wife, who co-founded the firm, 23andMe,” which lets people analyze and compare their own genetic makeup (consisting of 23 pairs of chromosomes).[6] In a recent announcement at Google’s Zeitgeist conference, he said he hoped that some day everyone would learn their genetic code in order to help doctors, patients, and researchers analyze the data and try to repair bugs.[6]

Brin's mother, Eugenia, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. In 2008, he decided to donate a large sum to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where his mother is being treated.[17] Brin used the services of 23AndMe and discovered that although Parkinson's is generally not hereditary, both he and his mother possess a mutation of the LRRK2 gene that puts the likelihood of his developing Parkinson's in later years between 20 and 80%.[6] When asked whether ignorance was not bliss in such matters, he stated that his knowledge means that he can now take measures to ward off the disease. An editorial in The Economist magazine states that "Mr Brin regards his mutation of LRRK2 as a bug in his personal code, and thus as no different from the bugs in computer code that Google’s engineers fix every day. By helping himself, he can therefore help others as well. He considers himself lucky. ... But Mr Brin was making a much bigger point. Isn’t knowledge always good, and certainly always better than ignorance?"

There is a bit of controversy with genetic testing and licencing to companies that offer it. The industry of "educational genetic testing" is still in its infancy. Many companies offer to test your DNA to determine your ethnic ancestry, which parts of the world your ancestors came from. But there is also a growing number of labs that will check your DNA for certain diseases or "markers".

Brin is in the process of getting people signed up with 23AndMe who have Parkinson's Disease or who may have a genetic connection to it. He is offering reduced rates for testing in order to build a database to be used for further study. At a glance, this appears a cool idea. But it is peppered with criticism about scientific validity. Whatever happens with his study I'll be watching. My interest in the project and perhaps others like it is my connection with Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis.

I'm not worried that I will develop PD on top of my MS. What concerns me is that if I do develop PD, symptoms may be confused with MS symptoms and treatment for the two diseases is different. I contacted a friend's wife who is a genetic counselor at a local hospital. She passed on some info to me that explains "familial PD" and the process of differentiating the many types of PD. My odds of developing PD are only slightly more that the general population, which is what I thought. Unless I have my DNA analyzed, I won't know for sure. Familial PD occurs less frequently than other PD, and of the two aunts I had who did have PD, one developed early onset PD, the other, late onset PD. The uncle and grandfather who had (undiagnosed but evident) essential tremor developed it late in life.

So what do I take from all this info? There appears to be a propensity for movement disorder on my paternal side of the family. MS is not a movement disorder, though movement is definitely affected. Right now it is classed as an auto-immune disorder. But both PD and MS are diseases of the brain. Where does MS fit in? That's what I'm waiting to find out.



Lisa Emrich said...

This is all very interesting. I think that research looking into genetic markers and patterns is fascinating. I'm sure that I would want to use 23andMe just for my own knowledge, basically because there are still so many unknowns.

As your life continues to unfold, I hope that you manage to steer clear of PD. But if not, you will handle it with knowledge and skill.

Shauna said...

Hi Lisa,
It is all quite interesting. In fact, I'll be attending a lecture in the coming week being put on by a bioethics group. The topic is "who pays for neuroscience research?" I suspect the topic of 23AndMe will be brought up. I, too, want to know more about my genetic make-up, but I also understand the complexities of genes and the environment and I know that just because my genes say one thing, doesn't mean they will express it.

And thank you for your kind words. Your remarks are always so eloquent, I feel warm and fuzzy reading them.