Free genetic testing to all being offered in Estonia

Free genetic testing to all being offered in Estonia

Aim is to minimise disease risks

Estonia has started offering residents free genetic profiling in a nationwide experiment aimed at minimising risks for typical diseases and encouraging a healthier lifestyle through personalised data reports.

Lili Milani, a researcher with the Estonian Genome Centre at the University of Tartu, said the scheme kicked off in March and will initially cover some 100,000 volunteers in the Baltic country of 1.3 million.

Participants are required to donate DNA samples from blood and give consent to storing their data to the Estonian Biobank, which has collected health records and biological samples from Estonians since 2000.

"Cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer in Estonia," Ms Milani said, adding that authorities and scientists were hoping that the genetic screening data could answer questions on living habits and diet for better healthcare prevention.

"Lifestyle always outweighs genes," she said.

Ms Milani said DNA samples will be analysed for more than 600,000 genetic variants linked to common diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Family doctors will then tell participants about the results.

However, participants can choose in advance how much information they wish to receive to avoid unnecessary anxiety.

The Estonian government has allocated €5 million for the project this year.

In countries such as Britain, people donating DNA samples are legally banned from receiving information discovered through such genetic profiling, even if they are found to have a high risk for some diseases.

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