Estonia offers free genetic testing in nationwide experiment

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

Lili Milani, a researcher with the Estonian Genome Center at the University of Tartu, said Thursday 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 No. 1 killer in Estonia," Milani said, adding that authorities and scientists were hoping that the genetic screening data could answer questions on living habits and diet for better health care prevention.

"Lifestyle always outweighs genes," she told The Associated Press.

Milani said DNA samples will be analyzed for more than 600,000 genetic variants linked to common diseases such as heart diseases, 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 euros ($6.2 million) for the project this year.

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

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