Last year 23andMe focused on updating plans for how best to use the data that we had already collected. A key element of this was adding Karl Heilbron to the 23andMe research team. Karl is a postdoctoral researcher focused exclusively on Parkinson’s disease.
Most recently he presented a poster at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, describing some of the preliminary findings of his work to find new phenotypes associated with Parkinson’s.
Some of the important Parkinson’s projects launched last year include a pilot study on the feasibility of incorporating de-identified medical records into the data we use for research. Analysis of the records is ongoing, and we expect to finish the pilot project by later this year.
We have also updated the background Parkinson’s survey completed by all research participants. This new survey includes a new section focused on L-dopa induced dyskinesia , a side effect of the drug levodopa that can emerge over time in many individuals with Parkinson’s. We are interested in factors — genetic and non-genetic — that influence susceptibility to the side effect. Olga Sazonova, a research scientist at 23andMe, leads this effort. Thanks to all of the Community members who contributed data related to Parkinson’s and other research topics during the year.
Our goals for for this year, are to analyze our existing data not just in-house but also in collaboration with other Parkinson’s researchers. For example, together with The Michael J. Fox Foundation, 23andMe recently solicited proposals for new collaborative Parkinson’s research projects. Our goal is to find proposals with the most potential to break new ground in what we know about Parkinson’s and with the most potential to meaningfully affect the lives of those living with Parkinson’s. We plan to announce the selected proposals over the summer.
Together with our collaborators the Research Team has also been working on a number of projects related to the collection of new types data. We plan to roll these out during the next few months. Topics to be covered include:
- Off-label prescriptions: This is a common medical practice in which a doctor prescribes a drug for an indication different from those that it has been approved for.
- Impulse Control Disorders: Collecting more data on impulse control disorders, which are potentially serious complication, often seen in individuals with Parkinson’s. We are interested in understanding how common it is in the 23andMe Parkinson’s research community and how the risk of developing the condition is influenced by genetics and other factors including medications.
- Cognition: The aim of the cognition project is to use a suite of online cognition tools, developed by 23andMe, to understand how Parkinson’s affects cognition and the changes associated with disease progression.
- Microbiome: The microbiome project will involve the collection and analysis of samples from volunteers with and without Parkinson’s disease to investigate whether Parkinson’s or its subtypes are associated with changes in the makeup of the microorganisms living in participants’ mouths and intestines. This is a hot topic in Parkinson’s research and an area where the 23andMe’s research community can make a significant contribution.
Finally, we are hopeful that a collaborative project we are planning with the Michael J. Fox Foundation will, among other things, expand the number of individuals with Parkinson’s in the 23andMe database.