23andMe hopes to find a cure for Parkinson’s through data mining. Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects millions of people, and a cure is hard to find. The company collects gene samples from people who want to know their genetic lineage, which it then stores and uses for research. Along with submitting their gene users answer questions that allow researches to look into things that were previously too expensive. To properly do the the research 23andMe teamed up with Genentech for the analysis of data.
Which is why Genentech’s next step is to sequence the full genomes of 3,000 of 23andMe’s Parkinson’s patients. These volunteers have answered questions about their family history, how quickly their disease is progressing, what treatments they’ve tried and how well they’ve worked. By drilling down into all 3 billion base pairs, the pharma firm hopes to get past the most common traits of Parkinson’s—the ones that each exert a small effect to sum up to the heritability of the disease. Instead, they’re looking for those rare variants, which destroy more biological machinery than average, leaving a trail of rubble that’s easier to track.“ They’re the extreme breaks in the system,” says Rob Graham, a senior scientist in Genentech’s human genetics group, and coauthor on the Nature Genetics paper.