Google Founder, Parkinson’s Disease and Good Marketing?

Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, wrote about his genetic predisposition for Parkinson’s Disease on his personal blog. Of course, he shared information from his 23andMe account, what else. His wife, Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder of 23andMe, a personalized genetic company.

Because there are only a small number of genes which are known to have a very substantial effect on health (e.g. 10 times the average risk), I felt the possibility of discovering something very important to my health was just a hypothetical exercise. So, when my wife asked me to look up G2019S in my raw data (23andMe scientists had had the forethought to include it on their chip), I viewed it mostly as entertainment.

But, of course, 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.

Well, he didn’t analyze properly his genetic results as Steve Murphy, our gene sherpa and the clinical genetics fellow at Yale, pointed out some days ago. First, the gene Brin mentioned (LRRK2) is not the most important gene in the story of Parkinson’s and second, his risk cannot be 80%. According to Steve:

Parkinson Disease affects approximately 1% of the population by age 65% and 4 to 5% by age 85 years. Therefore the lifetime risk is 2-5%. So a 1.2 to 2.1 Odds ratio would be 4% to 10% roughly. Not 80%!

LRRK2 is not one those genes that increases your risk by tenfold…

LRRK2 mutation accounts for 5 to 6% of familial PD and 1-2% of sporadic PD. Not exactly what I would call useful for a screening test. Mind you this is given for North Americans and Europeans.

Kevin Fischer had some comments about it as well.

Why was it a fantastic marketing trick?

  • Now everybody is talking about it and the misinterpretation of his genetic data.
  • 23andMe is getting a huge media attention.

Which means Brin is a good husband and knows how to promote her wife’s service efficiently.