Finland has recently compiled a national genome strategy. If implemented, it will facilitate the use of genetic information in healthcare, support international research collaboration, and speed up the development of new treatments.
Professor Aarno Palotie is internationally one of the best-known Finnish scientists. In addition to working on several research projects in genetics, he has also been a central figure in drawing up Finland’s national genome strategy.
The amount of genetic information is rapidly increasing as researchers like Palotie and his colleagues are looking deeper into the human genome. The easier availability of genetic data will bring a more personalized approach to our everyday healthcare. In the future, our genetic information will contribute to the medicines chosen for us as well as the optimal timing of our treatment.
Preparing for the future
“It is vitally important that we prepare for the increasing use of genetic information on a national level. We want ensure that the Finnish healthcare system is ready and we want to build an ecosystem that enables Finland to seize this great opportunity to start exporting our expertise on the utilization of genetic information,” says professor Palotie.
Issues that need to be addressed according to the genome strategy include the effectiveness of genome tests, data protection, and the training of healthcare staff.
“Finland’s high level of education, well-organized healthcare system and national healthcare registers together with our unique population structure form a very promising combination for both research and commercial cooperation,” Palotie says.
By unique population structure Palotie means the fact that Finns as a nation are a genetic isolate. They have been living in geographical isolation for thousands of years, which makes their genetic structure more homogenous than that of most other peoples. This provides exceptional opportunities for identifying genetic variations behind certain diseases. Furthermore, Finland also has a long tradition of collecting samples in biobanks, which makes genetic information readily accessible.
An effort worth making
“Our next big step is to get the national genome strategy implemented. This requires building a large reference database containing both genetic and health data – a tremendous work but worth every effort.”
Palotie’s research project Sequencing Initiative Suomi (SISu project) is one part of this work. His research group is currently also working on the genetics underlying migraine, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and cognitive impairment.
Another research project that professor Palotie is involved in, is developing a collaboration model for Finnish biobanks and pharmaceutical companies. Genetic information could help companies recognize promising new diagnostics and medicines early on, which in turn could result in cheaper and more efficient treatment. Read more about the project