10 October 2011
ByAppeared in BioNews 628
The 50,000 inhabitants on the 18-island archipelago will be offered genetic sequencing over the next five years. While individuals will not receive a personalised report on their genome, the results will be attached to their medical records and will be accessible by their doctor.
'The Faroes will be the first nation in the world to create a resource like this for public health. But we aren't just doing it to be first. The goal is to make genomic information useful to our citizens', said programme director, Bogi Eliasen, a political scientist at the Faroese Ministry of Health. Science reports that citizens of the Faroe Islands have access to their medical records through freedom of information requests.
Eliasen has volunteered to become one of the first to have their genomes sequenced. The first pilot study will involve 100 Faroese citizens and this will be extended to 1,000 people in the second stage, to be shortly followed by the entire population. It is expected to take five years to complete.
The FarGen project is an international collaboration between the US genomics-sequencing company, Illumina; the Faroese government; the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, near Cambridge, UK; as well as scientists from the University of Oxford and Baylor University, Texas. It is due to begin this year and the full project will cost around 257 million Danish kroner (roughly £30 million).
The Faroe Islands has been involved in genetic studies before. In 2009, half of the population was screened for the presence of carnitine transporter deficiency (CTD). CTD is a rare disease, characterised by heart failure and liver problems, and is 100 times more common in the Faroe Islands than elsewhere.
Eliasen is keen for FarGen to have a long-term impact. 'Even if my genome reveals little of medical relevance, I believe it could be valuable in the future', he said. He went on to explain his hopes that the Faroe Islands could become a global model of applying whole-genome sequencing into a country's healthcare system.