In the heart of Brussels, on the evening of Wednesday, September 13th, a pivotal gathering took place. Hosted by the Estonian Representation in Brussels, in collaboration with the Estonian Research Council, this event called for a notable group of professionals in genetics, personalised medicine, science communication and administration. The gathering aimed to foster connections and share vital information about the upcoming ambitious endeavour: the European ‘1+ Million Genomes’ Initiative.
This groundbreaking project seeks to provide secure access to genomics and clinical data, facilitate seamless integration into personalised healthcare, and empower advanced research and evidence-based policymaking. Aligned with the overarching goals of the European Health Data Space, it constitutes a pivotal component of the European Union’s agenda for the Digital Transformation of Health and Care.
The evening began with a warm welcome from the hosts’ representatives, Estonia’s ambassador to Belgium, Artur Kink and Annely Allik, the Head of Science Communication at the Estonian Research Council. Among the notables in attendance was Professor Andres Metspalu, a prominent figure in the Estonian Biobank, who had spearheaded the successful work of enlisting over 200,000 individuals during the population-based biobank project. This achievement is remarkable, representing 20% of Estonia’s adult population.
Yet, this accomplishment merely marks the inception of Estonia’s journey. In unity with representatives from 24 other European nations, Estonia now stands at the forefront of the 1 Million Genome Initiative—a monumental project poised to reshape the healthcare landscape throughout Europe. The discussions of the evening converged around this transformative initiative.
Evening main presenter André Uitterlinden, Professor of Complex Genetics and a member of the 1MG coordination team, highlighted with his presentation the distinct challenges and opportunities that Europe presents in the realm of genomics. While the United States has set impressive precedents, Europe’s rich diversity demands a distinctive approach and unique data. Collaboration with countries such as the UK and China is paramount, but the thorough stewardship of European information is equally essential.
Uitterlinden also shared the encouraging news of interest in this extraordinary project, painting a vivid picture of Europe’s participation through a colourful map—a testament to the far-reaching network of engaged nations. The project is poised to commence in the upcoming year, with daily dialogues extending across the globe, including partners like Australia and the United States.
The extent of the project’s scope is awe-inspiring, containing enhancements in patient healthcare through pharmacogenomics, critical support to blood banks, reinforcement of national screening programs (including advanced technologies like breast mammography imaging), and even extending into realms beyond clinical science, such as forensic testing for family relationships.
In his concluding remarks, Professor Uitterlinden underscored the significance of producing a series of events and educational initiatives to effectively communicate the profound knowledge stemming from this endeavour. The networking dinner served as a prototype for these forthcoming efforts, a celebration of collaborative synergy and the pivotal role of science communication in the pursuit of scientific discovery.
Written by Maarja Puistaja. This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.