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It's no secret that many disorders, such as coronary artery disease and early-onset Parkinson's, have a genetic component. But figuring out which genes are responsible has been difficult, because doctors can't collect blood samples from enough people to be able to link symptoms to disease-causing genes. Dr. Hugh Y. Rienhoff Jr., founder and chief executive officer of biotech company DNA Sciences, based in Mountain View, Calif., thinks he can remedy that by using the Web to speed up patient recruitment.
By the end of July, the private company expects to launch the Gene Trust Project for consumers. It correlates disease symptoms with specific genetic variations. Participating in the project will be easy--just log on to the company's Web site, DNA.com. Once logged on, patients who suffer from any of 19 different diseases can volunteer to donate a blood sample for analysis by the company. To participate, a patient must first complete a profile that includes information both about his or her health and that of family members. If the patient is eligible, DNA Sciences arranges for the person's blood to be drawn at a local doctor's office.
Rienhoff believes the payoffs for medical research--and his company--could be huge. He expects the research effort to yield new and better predictive tests for many common diseases. Down the road, Rienhoff says, the findings could also be used to develop novel treatments. Before these benefits can be reaped, however, the company will have to convince the public that it has adequate security and privacy measures in place.