It was already known that amongst the Google top people Sergey Brin is the one who is most interested in pushing biotechnology and the biomedical sciences: in his Stanford years he was interested in biology courses according to The Google Story, he married Anne Wojcicki (who graduted from biology at Yale), Google invested $4.4 million into 23andMe the pioneering personal genomics company co-founded by Anne, then Google invested into 23andMe competitor Navigenics too.
Now Sergey Brin added another, serious and personal reason to think that he is really, personally committed to the quick progress in the biomedical sciences: in his new blog – already a bit of an Internet history – called Too he disclosed that using the 23andMe personal genetics service he figured out something worrying about his and his family’s risk of Parkinson disease (his mother and her aunt are being already diagnosed with PD):
“I learned something very important to me — I carry the G2019S mutation and when my mother checked her account, she saw she carries it too.
The exact implications of this are not entirely clear. Early studies tend to have small samples with various selection biases. Nonetheless 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 20% to 80% depending on the study and how you measure.
The G2019S mutation is actually the rs34637584 SNP and lies in the gene LRRK2 encoding leucine-rich repeat kinase on chromosome 12. The mutation affects the first codon of the gene and is a guanine (G)-to- adenine (A) substitution resulting known as a missense and leads to a glycine – serine (hence the name) amino acid conversion in the protein product. Here is how the SNP position looks in the 23andMe browser using the sample family, the Mendels.
The risk of PD for a person who inherits the LRRK2 Gly2019Ser mutation was 28% at age 59 years, 51% at 69 years, and 74% at 79 years.
I am now waiting for the results of my 23andMe test and I think it is better if humans prepare themselves to make the jump to be curious, rational, balanced and modestly skeptical about their disclosed genetic information.
I must say that Brin’s attitude and conclusion can be recommended for everybody facing the same problem but the fact that it is a Google co-founder speaking here gives us a real chance against Parkinson disease which is really one of the worst aging related condition as the average age of onset is around 60 years of age.
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.
I feel fortunate to be in this position. 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.
So instead of thinking along the boring and impolite New York Times lines:
“Analysts said they did not believe that the news about Mr. Brin would have a negative impact on Google’s shares.”
let’s just say that the news about one particular nucleotide in Mr Brin’s chromosome 12 would probably have a long standing and huge positive impact on the fight against Parkinson disease.
/Here ends logically the original post, what comes after is related to it, but not strictly, let ask the readers…/
What’s really interesting for me is that this fight against PD directly related to the other more general fight Sergey mentions as a condition: “Until the fountain of youth is discovered”.
More than a month ago Aubrey de Grey, Chris Patil and me had a shared Aging and life extension session in the Googleplex’s Seville Room at the SciFoo unconference. I had a short 6 slide – 10 min presentation between the 2 other smart, funny and native speaker guys and I decided to highlight only 1 thing out of the many-many ideas I have in this field. This only thing was a strategical one as I tried to answer the question: What can Google do for fixing aging & life extension? right now technologically and accordingly I suggested something that only Google can implement concerning its scale and potential. Unfortunately I didn’t see Sergey or Anne in the audience (they visited probably another session more interesting to them) but we had a nice audience nevertheless.
The question of what Google can do for curing Parkinson disease or aging might easily be as important as building a colony on Mars and a NASA Campus. Extension in time is a deeper problem than extension in space.
Google already made the first steps to the biotech direction by inventing 23andMe/Navigenics. What are the next steps?
This is the first time we are hearing about anything of the health condition of the Google Founder generation as an issue in itself and as something time dependent and prone to decay. When Sergey/Larry (and us) are getting older and older I predict that the thoughts will be more and more on how to fix the physiological and mental state of the body to preserve work capacity than space traveling.
Concerning the chances for a robust life extension technology the Google founder generation is still in the ring, but hasn’t had too much time left to do sg. before the final knockout.
Earlier I wrote about The life extension bonus effect of personal genome services which is supposed to be in the range of 10 years today. I would add now that knowing our predisposed genetic makeup in details is an absolute necessary but not sufficient step and the only service available at this moment that can rationally help us to design a substantially longer and safer life.