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Genome Project: 100,000 samples collected, in 2019 at least 50,000 more people can join

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Collecting genetic data is an important step towards preventive medicine, transforming modern health care and enabling people to receive better and timely treatment in the future.

In 2018 more than 100 000 new participants have joined the genome project. The state will allocate another 2.3 million euros for 2019 to enable at least 50 000 more people to join the Estonian Biobank. In the next phase of the project during the years 2019-2022 the plan is to integrate genetic data as a part of the everyday medicine, to give people feedback about their personal genetic risks.   

Collecting genetic data is an important step towards preventive medicine, transforming modern health care and enabling people to receive better and timely treatment in the future.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Institute for Health Development and the Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu thank the people who have joined the genome project by donating their gene sample, as well as all the partners who have made recruitment as easy as possible for people.

“For the 100th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, we invited people to make a gift to Estonia and donate a blood sample. The Estonian people showed that they are ready to act together for a common goal. As of this morning, 100 895 samples have been collected in the biobank. 100,000 Estonians joined the project to contribute to the development of science and medicine. This is of great importance to Estonia, but its effects are even beyond our borders, ”said the Minister of Health and Labour Riina Sikkut.

According to the Minister, the collection of genetic samples is part of a larger step towards preventive medicine. “Our population is aging and the burden on the healthcare system is increasing. Therefore, we need to invest in preventive medicine, find and develop new ways to stay healthy and prevent disease, ”said Minister Riina Sikkut. “In the coming year, we will continue to collect samples, but we will also continue to work to ensure that genetic data becomes part of the health information system and thus part of our everyday medicine. We envisage that in the future, the genetic data of all Estonian residents could be in the biobank, thus also available in the health information system for better preventive care. ”

Prof. Andres Metspalu, the head of the Estonian Biobank, expressed his delight over the great support for personalized medicine. “I emphasize that the vast majority of new participants are between 30-55 years, which is particularly good, because we are talking about personalized prevention and this age group wins the most – there is still enough time to change one’s lifestyle or for doctors to prescribe a more suitable medication to reduce disease risks and delay onset. As it is free for people, all Estonian residents benefit equally from these preventive measures, ”Metspalu said.

Research professor and head of personalized medicine at the Estonian Genome Center Lili Milani thanked all previous and new participants, who enable us to study the genetics of diseases and drug reponse more deeply, and make new discoveries. “52,000 Estonians who donated their blood sample in 2002-2017 have helped to make Estonia known in the world in the field of genomic research. An additional 100,000 new participants will allow us to take it all to the next level, ”said Lili Milani. “This year, the first pilot projects of implementing personalized medicine have been launched in cooperation with hospitals and family doctors, where biobank participants are invited for gene-based prevention programs. Further research and validation is very important for the introduction of genomic findings in everyday medicine, ”added Milani.

According to Annika Veimer, Director of the National Institute for Health Development, the collection and analysis of genetic samples is the basis for the development of personalized medicine, and in particular a contribution to science. "The scientists are working on genetic association studies and looking for new practical medical benefits from genetic information. Meanwhile we have to work together to develop necessary IT systems that allow, for example, a family doctor or an occupational physician to obtain practical information from a patient's genetic analysis to enable better care, to give recommendations for disease prevention or to offer the most appropriate medicines, ”said Annika Veimer. “We are doing something completely new and such developments are not happening overnight and will take time. Our goal is to get the most out of the feedback given to people.”

The Estonian state supports the continuation of the project in 2019 with EUR 2.3 million. In addition, EUR 5 million from the European Regional Development Fund will be invested in 2019-2022 in order to link genetic data to the health information system so that the doctor will also be able to take the personal genetic information of the individual into account when assessing the patient's health risks.

The project is coordinated by the National Institute for Health Development, whose task is to develop and gradually implement procedures and principles for the effective implementation of research results in everyday medicine. The project is implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Institute for Health Development, the University of Tartu, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund and the Health and Wellbeing Information Systems Center.

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