One of the better articles in this July’s issue of Wired. Apparently Sergey Brin has a high genetic probability of contracting Parkinson’s disease, and is doing everything he can to find a way of preventing the onslaught of the disease, even if this means proposing a new method for conducting and testing scientific research. The article used a nice visual to explain the two different methods, and which I have listed out below.
The traditional method is (which apparently can take 6 years):
1. Hypothesis: An early study suggests that patients with Gaucher’s disease (caused by a mutation to the GBA gene) might be at increased risk of Parkinson’s.
2. Studies: Researchers conduct further studies, with varying statistical significance.
3. Data aggregation: Sixteen centers pool information on more than 5,500 Parkinson’s patients.
4. Analysis: A statistician crunches the numbers.
5. Writing: A paper is drafted and approved by 64 authors.
6. Submission: The paper is submitted to The New England Journal of Medicine. Peer review ensues.
7. Acceptance: NEJM accepts the paper.
8. Publication: The paper notes that people with Parkinson’s are 5.4 times more likely to carry the GBA mutation.
Sergey Brin’s method is (total time 8 months):
1. Tool Construction: Survey designers build the questionnaire that patients will use to report symptoms.
2. Recruitment: The community is announced, with a goal of recruiting 10,000 subjects with Parkinson’s.
3. Data aggregation: Community members get their DNA analyzed. They also fill out surveys.
4. Analysis: Reacting to the NEJM paper, 23andMe researchers run a database query based on 3,200 subjects. The results are returned in 20 minutes.
5. Presentation: The results are reported at a Royal Society of Medicine meeting in London: People with GBA are 5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s, which is squarely in line with the NEJM paper. The finding will possibly be published at a later date.
The major difference here is time and the quantity of data they are generating in the new method. I hope it works for Brin and for preventative disease and illness research in general.