Tõnu Esko – the Success Story of Estonian Genome Project

Estonian Biobank is a success story: they have collected biosamples from almost 170 000 Estonians, which is a very big customer base to use their services, says Tõnu Esko, Vice Director of University of Tartu Institute of Genomics. Through this, they also gathered a lot of health data, which has allowed them to test their services and to link data with national health registers.
In science, you always have to show that your project is valid and its impact to the world is big enough – during 2007-2017, half of the Estonian Biobank information about genomes and its effects on people’s health has been used as a research output in more than 600 publications. So, the project has indeed been very useful for science as a whole.

This project carries business opportunities as well. “We collaborate with pharmaceutical companies, startups and software companies, who want to use this data for business innovation,” explains Tõnu. “For the pharmacy and healthcare field, in particular, this project can be very useful, as it can help to identify diseases and dangers most important to the individual.”

So, in the future, you may receive your genetic score at the doctor’s office as a preventative measure. For example, if you find out that you are in the top 1% risk group of heart disease or breast cancer, you can help yourself by optimizing your lifestyle and going to regular screenings and checkups. The score also helps to dose different medicines in a more efficient way. Individual organisms can react differently to the same dosage of medicine – the pill can degrade too rapidly or on the contrary – stay in the organism for too long thanks to different enzymes.

The biobank ecosystem is a data accelerator for future products and services, as it allows to build and accelerate different ideas. Since the data is already collected and access regulated, it allows prompt testing of innovative ideas – this situation creates a fail fast model, which is an attractive model at a global scale. So, if you personally want to contribute to science and healthcare innovation you can become a gene donor.