For several years now, Andres Metspalu has been dreaming of building a massive database that holds the genetic data of one million Estonians. That dream is now coming true. Last week, the first blood samples arrived at the laboratories opened in Tartu last month.

Metspalu has been promoting the idea of an Estonian gene bank since 1999. In 2000, the Estonian government founded a non-profit organisation, the EGP Foundation, to supervise the Estonian Genome Project (EGP). In the same year, the private US company EGeen was founded (Metspalu is its Chief Scientific Officer) to finance the project and commercialize its results via drug and diagnostic target discovery.

The ethical and legal framework was established last year, when the Estonian Parliament passed the Human Genes Research Act (HGRA). The law requires that participation in the project is voluntary and requires unconditional, informed consent.

Now, more than 100 family doctors in three...

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