Google, Microsoft, and Medical Research

Fact: Two stark numbers are published today about Google co-founder Sergey Brin. First, the annual update of the “Forbes 400” wealthiest billionaires reports that Brin’s personal net worth is $15.9 billion (though that’s down some $2.7 billion from last year, due to the decline of Google’s stock price by 40% since last November).  More importantly, Brin himself wrote in his personal blog today that by having genetic research done on himself, “I learned something very important to me — I carry the G2019S mutation… it is clear that I have a markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson’s in my lifetime than the average person. In fact, it is somewhere between 20% to 80% depending on the study and how you measure.”

Analysis: Sergey Brin’s own blog account of his discovery is a remarkably personal and touching piece, dealing with his mother and her own belated diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and the scientific boundaries of current genetic research and the implications one can draw from this immature field of science.

(c) AP Photo, Paul Sakuma

This was only the second post on Sergey’s new blog; the blog’s name is “Too” – and the first post merely stated the rationale for that name (“Welcome to my personal blog. While Google is a play on googol, too is a play on the much smaller number – two. It also means ‘in addition,’ as this blog reflects my life outside of work”). 

If his refreshing honesty and thoughtfulness today are going to be the calibre of his writing, I’m going to be a regular reader. 

His piece reminds me of Steve Jobs’ modern classic, his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.  If you’ve never read that, then stop reading my words right now, and go read that. You’ll find yourself over the weekend thinking about your own approach to life.

But back to Brin and genetic research.  It will be interesting to watch what Google’s research arm is able to do in the area of medical and health research.  To make progress in bioengineering and genetics, “organizing the world’s information” is absolutely paramount and of course that’s Google’s mission statement.

I do know that I’m proud of Microsoft’s own efforts in these medical arenas, though they’re not touted loudly by the company, and perhaps get lost amid the public attention given to Seinfeld ads and Vista wars🙂

For example, David Heckerman of Microsoft Research (check out his staggering list of publications here) has been a leading member in a pathbreaking HIV research effort:

A pioneering collaborative study has discovered how the HIV virus evades the human body’s immune system. The research collaborative – involving scientists from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Microsoft Research and Los Alamos National Laboratory – used highly computer-intensive, cutting-edge statistical research methods to investigate how the HIV virus mutates to escape the body’s immune system…”

“The study, published in the July 2007 issue of PLoS Pathogens, is the largest population-based investigation of how natural variations in HLA class 1 can influence HIV genetic sequence, as well as the first characterization of changes in multiple HIV genes.”  – Massachusetts General Hospital, “Novel genetics research advances possibility of HIV vaccine

If you’re interested in an informal but in-depth look at this and several other medical related issues, here’s a cool new video series of Microsoft Research interviews conducted by Dr. Bill Crounse, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Worldwide Health.

Each video “reviews promising areas of research that may one day lead to solutions with a direct or indirect application to health and healthcare.”

I’m looking forward to reading Sergey’s ongoing conversations, whether they’re about technology, health, or his mom.  Long life to both of them.


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2 Responses

  1. […] Google, Microsoft, and Medical ResearchBut back to Brin and genetic research. It will be interesting to watch what Google’s research arm is able to do the area of medical and health research. To make progress in bioengineering and genetics, “organizing the world’s … […]

  2. Thanks for redirecting me to Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address. I hadn’t read it, but I’m glad I did now. Thought it was only polite to return to thank you!

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