Why in Finland?
Finland has exceptional conditions for a genetic research covering the whole population. Finland has an internationally unique Biobank Act that makes collections of hospitals and research institutes available for all researchers. Combined with the other strengths of Finland: comprehensive registers, electronic medical records and a research-friendly population, it enables extraordinary opportunities for new research and business. Moreover, thanks to the genetically unique Finns, genomics data is faster to analyze and the probability of findings is higher than in genetically heterogenic populations.
FinnGen compared to similar projects elsewhere in the world
There are several projects of the same magnitude around the world under preparation or already realised. The best known of them is the British UK Biobank. In the UK Biobank they have recruited 500,000 participants who have donated samples of their health status to the use of researchers and who have made a commitment that their health status can also be monitored in the future. In the UK Biobank as well they are combining genome data of the participants with their health data. Unlike in the FinnGen project, the information has been decided to be opened to be freely available for use and to be copied by the international research community.
Compared to the UK Biobank, the advantages of the FinnGen project are the genome of Finns which makes medical research easier and extensive national digital register data. From the viewpoint of medical research, it is also essential that among the participants there are enough of patients suffering from diseases that are at the focus of the research. Most of the Finnish biobanks are gathering consents specifically in connection with hospital appointments, which is why the number of patients is markedly higher than in the UK Biobank which mainly recruited persons in good health.
Other ongoing projects around the world include, for example, the ‘All of Us’ project in the US launched by NIH financing with a target of one million participants, the Estonian biobank (Eesti geenivaramu) coordinated by Tartu University and gene bank of Iceland owned by Amgen.