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9/19/2008
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Google's Sergey Brin Starts Blog, Reveals Predisposition For Parkinson's

The co-founder said he discovered the risk though 23andMe.com, a consumer-oriented genetic testing company that his wife Anne Wojcicki co-founded.

More than five years after Google acquired Blogger, company co-founder Sergey Brin has finally decided to use the service.

Brin's first blog post is both personal and promotional: He reveals that he is genetically predisposed to have a greater than average risk of Parkinson's disease, and he explains that he discovered this though 23andMe, the consumer-oriented genetic testing company that his wife Anne Wojcicki co-founded.

"As a customer of 23andMe, I have always been excited about the product. I have found what pieces of DNA I share with various relatives," wrote Brin. "I checked whether other Brins were related. I explored my various gene journals -- learning, for instance, that I have one copy of the fast twitch muscle fiber. I also looked over the health related entries and found that my genetic risk for most diseases is modestly lower than average but for a few diseases it is modestly higher."

Brin said that while the implications of his genetic makeup are unclear, he recognizes that he has a "markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson's in my lifetime than the average person."

23andMe didn't miss the opportunity to promote Brin's message. "It's sobering to hear this news about someone so closely affiliated with our company (Sergey is married to Anne Wojcicki, one of our co-founders)," wrote Matthew Crenson, 23andMe's content manager in a blog post. "But we're encouraged too, because Sergey's post also illustrates the benefit that comes with having access to your genetic information -- and the power of sharing it."

Prior to Brin's disclosure, 23andMe was already investigating ways in which it could be involved in Parkinson's research and treatment. In May, the company announced an initiative with the Parkinson Institute and Clinical Center to enroll the institute's patients in 23andMe to collect data and use that information to inform future research. With that kind of data, revenue opportunities may follow.

Earlier this month, 23andMe reduced the price of its genetic screening from $999 to $399. The company attributed the price drop to a reduction in the cost of the Illumina DNA Analysis Beadchips that it uses. Industry observers believe the price drop is a bad sign for the prospects of personal genomics companies.

23andMe had a near-death experience in June when the California Department of Public Health sent letters out to genetic testing services in the state demanding that the companies cease genetic testing until licensed to do so by the agency. "Any laboratory offering genetic tests to California residents must be licensed as a clinical laboratory in California," the Department said. "The tests must be ordered by a licensed physician and validated."

23andMe got its license and appears to have convinced the CDPH that a physician needn't be involved in the ordering of genetic tests, for now at least.

The CDPH didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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