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23andMe-Led Team Offers Program to Enroll Parkinson's Patients

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The personal genetics service firm 23andMe, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center announced yesterday that they are enrolling 10,000 people to be part of a new Parkinson's disease community. The effort is aimed at establishing the resources necessary for future genome-wide association studies and other research initiatives.

In an effort to entice individuals with Parkinson's disease to participate, 23andMe is slashing the price of its service from $399 to $25 for a limited time for up to 10,000 individuals with Parkinson's disease who sign up through the Parkinson's Institute or the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who is married to 23andMe co-founder Ann Wojcicki, will ante up an undisclosed amount of cash to subsidize the genotyping costs.

To be eligible, individuals must have physician-diagnosed Parkinson's disease and agree to provide saliva samples and fill out online surveys about their condition. Members of the Parkinson's community will also have access to the complete 23andMe Personal Genome Service. Current 23andMe customers who do not have the disease can participate as healthy controls in the project by voluntarily filling out the company's Parkinson's disease survey.

The latest research project is distinct from a collaboration between the same organizations announced last spring, Rachel Cohen, manager of communications at 23andMe, told GenomeWeb Daily News. Cohen said that effort was specifically aimed at developing web-based diagnostic tools for Parkinson's disease, whereas the latest project is aimed at making sure they have individuals with Parkinson's disease on board for research efforts.

The discounted rate will only be available for a few more weeks but there will likely be more enrollment efforts down the road, Cohen added. "This is really wave one of enrollment," she said.

Holly Barkhymer, associate director of communications at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and Brian Fiske, an associate director and team leader of research programs at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, told GenomeWeb Daily News that the new project is aimed at building a community of individuals with Parkinson's disease for future genetic research studies. The idea is that these individuals agree to participate in research studies as the tools become available, they explained.

According to a news release issued by the Michael J. Fox Foundation yesterday, the Foundation "has been funding a partnership between 23andMe and the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center to develop Web-based tools and surveys to gather information from a community of [Parkinson's disease] patients in a scientifically meaningful way."

Although the Foundation provided funding for that project, which remains ongoing, Barkhymer explained, it has a non-funding role in the new project. Instead, it is tapping into its constituency of Parkinson's patients, spreading the word about the research, and distributing discount codes for eligible individuals.

Eventually, those involved hope to bring together the complementary efforts to learn more about genetic variants related to disease onset, treatment response, and more. "We anticipate that we'll be able to do multiple studies," 23andMe's Cohen said.

"We are very excited by the approach," Fiske said, explaining that it is a good way to start collecting large amounts of data. "The projects kind of go hand in hand."

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