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Estonia offering 100,000 residents free genetic testing

Former Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) donating blood at the program's launch in March.
Former Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) donating blood at the program's launch in March. Source: Silver Gutmann/Ministry of Social Affairs

In an effort to develop personalized medicine in its national healthcare, Estonia has launched a program to recruit and genotype 100,000 new biobank participants as part of its National Personalized Medicine program.

The Estonian government wants to develop its healthcare system by offering all of its residents genome-wide genotyping to be translated into personalized reports for use in everyday medical practice via the national e-health portal, the Ministry of Social Affairs said in a press release on Tuesday, noting that the country has many encrypted digital solutions incorporated into government functions that link the nation's various databases via end-to-end encrypted pathways.

The initiative is a joint development project of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Institute for Health Development (NIHD) and the Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu, which has maintained and studied the DNA of Estonia's first 50,000 biobank participants.

International efforts have identified thousands of associations between genetic variants and diseases or traits, and created maps of unique variations within populations.

"Today we have enough knowledge about both the genetic risk of complex diseases and the interindividual variability of the effects of medicines in order to begin systematically utilizing this information in everyday healthcare," explained Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE).

"In cooperation with the NIHD and the University of Tartu, we will enable another 100,000 people to join the Estonian Biobank in order to boost the development of personalized medicine in Estonia and thus contribute to the advancement of preventive healthcare," he said.

"As the technology proider for the Estonian Genome Center, Illumina is delighted that this ambitious project has reached this stage," said Paula Dowdy, senior vice president and general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Illumina. "Using our InfiniumTM Global Screening Array to further develop personalized medicine in Estonia will provide physicians with genomic information that will lead to better health outcomes in the future."

State earmarks €5 million for project

The Estonian government has allocated €5 million for the inititative this year. The project will be coordinated by the NIHD, whose task is to develop and implement procedures and principles for the effective implementation of scientific research in medicine.

Estonian Genome Center director Andres Metspalu welcomes the Estonian ministry's initiative to increase the number of biobank participants.

"We are glad that, with the support of the this project, the results of the long-erm work of the Genome Center will be transferred into practical medicine, and it will also give a further boost to our future research," Metspalu said. "The university will also contribute to the creation of a feedback system for biobank participants as well as to training healthcare professionals in providing patients with feedback based on their genetic information."

The project will be implemented according to Estonia's Human Genes Research Act and the same broad consent form used for the first 50,000 participants. Sample collection will begin on Monday, April 2.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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