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Avey Leaves 23andMe to Start Alzheimer's Research Foundation Using DTC Genomics Firm's Platform


By Turna Ray

23andMe co-founder Linda Avey announced last week that she will leave the helm of the Mountain View, Calif.-based personal genomics firm she helped launch in order to start a new research foundation focused on Alzheimer's disease.

The foundation will use 23andMe's research platform and its database of genetic risk association information to investigate the causes and discover new treatments for the disease.

Avey's departure was effective as of Sept. 4, the day the announcement was made.

Avey and Anne Wojcicki, wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, together launched 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer personalized genomics firm that currently charges customers around $400 to learn if they harbor certain genetic mutations that place them at higher risk for developing certain diseases and impact their response to certain drug treatments.

23andMe's terms of service informs its customers that "by your participation in the 23andMe service you contribute your genetic information to our research effort to study various aspects of human genetics in an attempt to better understand the human genome.” Customers are also urged to interact with other customers through web-based tools and discuss their genetic data.

At her new foundation, Avey plans to "drive the formation of the world’s largest community of individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s, empower them with their genetic information and track their brain health using state-of-the-art tools.

"There is a clear need for revolutionary research and concentrated effort to confront Alzheimer’s, and we need to start now in order to make meaningful progress," Avey said in a statement. "The resources are out there. My goal is to marshal them to find answers for families, like mine, who have lost family members to such a debilitating disease."

Avey's father-in-law had Alzheimer's disease and passed away last year.

Both Avey and Wojcicki noted that when forming 23andMe, both had planned to focus research efforts on Alzheimer's disease.

"With Linda’s involvement, I believe that the APOE4 community could be the first asymptomatic community to successfully develop preventative treatments," Wojcicki said in a statement.

Those with the APOE4 gene variant have been shown to have as much as a 50 percent heightened risk in developing Alzheimer's. APOE4 combined with another variant, TOMM40, accounts for as much as 90 percent of inherited forms of Alzheimer's. Still, just because a person has these genetic variants doesn't mean they will necessarily develop the disease.

Detractors of the "do-it-yourself" research model spearheaded by DTC consumer genomics firms have often questioned the clinical utility of learning one's genetic risk for medical conditions for which there are no cures and limited treatments options, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Consumer genomics firms hope to speed up the development of treatments for life threatening illnesses like cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease by spurring genetic research through the use of their growing genetic risk databases.