Page URL:

Estonia gene bank project gets underway

1 September 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 223

Estonian scientists developing a 'gene bank' have begun a pilot project using samples from 2,500 of the country's 1.4 million inhabitants, according to a report in the Times newspaper last week. The researchers eventually hope to collect blood samples and a detailed medical history from one million Estonians, in order to shed light on common illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and osteoporosis.

One aim of the project is to identify genetic variations associated with people's response to medicines: 'If we can create a genetic map for each person, we can improve the lives of at least 40 per cent of the population, simply by bringing them closer to the correct medication' said co-founder Janus Pikanione. Information for the database is being collected by family doctors, who send it in an anonymous, coded form to the Estonian Genome Project laboratory in Tartu. Personal genetic information is protected in Estonia by the country's Human Genetic Research Act, which is intended to prevent such data being passed to insurance companies, employers, courts, the police or banks.

A similar database was launched in Iceland in 1999 by biotech firm deCODE Genetics, but not all the country's doctors approve of this national, opt-out gene bank. The pressure group Mannverd was formed to oppose the project, after the government granted deCODE exclusive access to the population's medical records. deCODE claims that Icelanders are more genetically similar than other European people, making it easier to pick out genetic variations associated with disease. But this claim was disputed earlier this year, by geneticist and Mannverd-member Einar Arnason.

In an ongoing debate, deCODE scientist Agnar Helgason and researchers at the University of Oxford have now published more data, which they say provides a 'clear and consistent picture' of Icelanders being one of the more genetically homogenous populations in Europe. Arnason disputes these new results, and says he plans to publish another paper showing that Iceland has a particularly diverse gene pool. But Helgason's colleague Peter Donnelly, a statistician, says that deCODE's success in mapping disease genes could also be down to other reasons, such as good genealogical records and good medical information.

Gene bank set to solve riddle of ill-health
The Times |  28 August 2003
Oxford expert fights in 'pure' Iceland battle
The Times Higher Educational Supplement |  29 August 2003
4 August 2005 - by BioNews 
Scientists at the National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico launched the Mexico Genome Project last week. They hope the study, the first phase of which is expected to cost $2.5 million, will identify genes involved in common conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. Gerardo Jimenez, who...
17 February 2003 - by BioNews 
Icelanders may not have the unique genetic heritage that gene-hunting firm deCODE Genetics had previously claimed, a new study suggests. The Icelandic biotech company is hunting for genes involved in common illnesses, using medical records and DNA samples from its country's people. It claims that Icelanders are more genetically similar...
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.