Parkinson’s research 2.0

The Parkinson’s Institute, 23andMe launch Web-based research initiative

Amy Swinderman
SUNNYVALE, Calif.—The Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center, a non-profit clinical research center, has tapped privately held personal genetics company 23andMe to support the development of advanced methods for clinical and epidemiologic research for Parkinson's Disease.

With a grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the institute will leverage the Web-based technologies of 23andMe—which boasts Google as one of its investors—to expand the involvement of Parkinson's patients in clinical research and increase the frequency and quality of patient data collection.

"This partnership represents the basis for 'Research 2.0', a new research architecture that Web-enables validated diagnostic procedures and combines them with genetic profiles of Parkinson's patients," says Linda Avey, co-founder of 23andMe. "By building a social network for the Parkinson's Disease community, and combining it with the world-class expertise of Parkinson's Institute researchers, we hope to establish an entirely new paradigm for how genetic research is conducted that actively involves the patient."

According to Dr. J. William Langston, the institute's scientific director and founder, existing models for collecting patient information do not effectively identify both genetic and environmental—an emerging area of new research—causes of Parkinson's Disease.
In addition, classic data collection methods are cumbersome in that they require multiple patient visits to a limited number of skilled clinical sites, time-consuming and often long-distance visits, and costly and labor-intensive on-site efforts, he says.

Together, 23andMe and the Parkinson's Institute will design and validate Web-based clinical assessment tools and establish a social networking platform to facilitate the development of communities and research projects based the Parkinson's Institute's data on common traits of Parkinson's Disease patients.

All participating Parkinson's Institute patients will be enrolled in 23andMe's Personal Genome Service and will provide a saliva sample for a comprehensive genome scan which will generate more than 580,000 data points per patient. The Parkinson's Institute patients will provide specific information and insights that will include their individual environmental exposures, family history, disease progression and treatment response.
If successful, the research initiative could be a "quantum leap" in Parkinson's Disease research, Langston says.

"This could be quite revolutionary," he says. "Parkinson's is a complex disease with many contributing factors—some genetic, and we're convinced there are also major environmental influences. This work could dramatically accelerate our research on finding the cause and better treatments for the disease. Our next phase will be tackling even bigger and more exciting issues, looking at a patient's genotype and exposure histories all at the same time." 

The project is 23andMe's first foray into Parkinson's Disease research, Avey says.
"These types of studies—looking for gene/environment interactions—require large numbers of enrolled patients and standardized data collection processes," she says. "The Parkinson's Institute is uniquely suited to join 23andMe in expanding our understanding of the relationship between genetics, environment and disease." DDN

Amy Swinderman

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