World first as genome sequencing offered to entire Faroe islands

30 September 2011

The Faroe Islands, a self-governing group of islands within the Kingdom of Denmark, are to become the world’s first nation offering full genome sequencing to every citizen.
All 50,000 inhabitants will have the opportunity to participate in the new FarGen project, which will link genome sequence data to individuals’ health records, and assess whether this will allow personalised medicine, with doctors using genetic information to guide disease prevention and choices of treatment.
Supported by genome-sequencing company Illumina, the project is expected to cost around £30 million if sequencing costs continue to fall as expected, and to take five years to complete. Project researchers will also consider wider social issues arising from the project, including logistics of storage and analysis, and ethical concerns such as privacy, confidentiality and the testing of minors. Schools will have special lessons on genomics.
Faroes’ Department of Health programme manager Bogi Eliasen reportedly said: “The Faroes will be the first nation in the world to create a resource like this for public health. But we aren’t just doing it to be first. The goal is to make genomic information useful to our citizens.”
Comment: This is a bold move for what is admittedly a very small country, and will certainly generate a body of really valuable data on how far it is already possible to improve medical care using genomic information, not to mention how the population responds to the opportunity and which practical and social issues arise from the initiative.

The next PHG Foundation report, to be launched on 24th October 2011, looks at the implications of whole genome sequencing for the UK health service – though not as a national programme offering full sequencing for all citizens - including clinical uses, economic and logistical issues, and wider ethical, legal and social concerns. 

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