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Genetic Health

Estonia Offers 100,000 Residents Free Genetic Testing

Effort aims to develop personalized medicine in national healthcare

Estonia Offers 100,000 Residents Free Genetic Testing
March 20, 2018

Estonia has started a program to recruit and genotype 100,000 new biobank participants as part of its National Personalized Medicine program.

The government wants to develop a healthcare system by offering all its residents genome-wide genotyping that will be translated into personalized reports for use in everyday medical practice through the national e-health portal. The country has many encrypted digital solutions incorporated into government functions that link the nation’s various databases through end-to-end encrypted pathways. A website has been set up as part of the project, so that Estonians can volunteer and give their consent to be genotyped.

It is a joint development project of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Institute for Health Development and the Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu, which has maintained and studied the DNA of the nation’s first 50,000 biobank participants.

International efforts have identified thousands of associations between genetic variants and diseases, or traits, and created maps of the unique variation 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 start using this information systematically in everyday healthcare," said Jevgeni Ossinovski, Minister of Health and Labour. “In cooperation with the National Institute for Health Development 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."

Paula Dowdy, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Illumina, Europe, Middle East, and Africa said: “As the technology provider for the Estonian Genome Center, Illumina is delighted that this ambitious project has reached this stage. Using our Infinium™ Global Screening Array to further develop personalized medicine in Estonia will provide physicians with genomic information that we believe will lead to better health outcomes in the future.”

The Estonian Government has allocated 5 million euros for the program during 2018. The project will be coordinated by the National Institute for Health Development, whose task is to develop and implement procedures and principles for the effective implementation of scientific research in medicinal practice.

Andres Metspalu, Director of the Estonian Genome Center at the University of Tartu, welcomes the initiative of the Ministry of Social Affairs to increase the number of biobank participants. "We are glad that with the support of this project, the results of the long-term work of the Genome Center will be transferred into practical medicine, and it will also give a further boost for our future research. The University will also contribute to the creation of a feedback system for the biobank participants, and to training healthcare professionals to give patients feedback based on genetic information.”

The project will be implemented on the basis of the Estonian Human Genes Research Act and the same broad consent form that was used for the first 50,000 participants. The official sample collection will start on April 2, 2018. 


Pictured Jevgeni Ossinovski, Minister of Health and Labour, donating blood to the Estonia biobank.

Photo by Silver Gutmann

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