Tiny Faroe Islands stakes big claim as genetics research hub

The tiny Faroe Islands is staking a claim as a hub for genetics research, thanks to its unique pool of genetics.

Due to the isolated location of the Faroese society –  the self-governing archipelago, part of the Kingdom of Denmark, is located between Iceland and Norway – the gene pool has only been mixed with foreign populations in the last 20 or so years. 

Looking for genetic contexts between conditions and diseases is usually complicated by the mix of genetics within populations. The relative ‘purity’ of the genes in the Faroese BioBank, therefore, can provide a unique starting point for research projects, ensuring connections are easier to track. The BioBank is open for co-operations with both academic and commercial entities, and the result is a hot spot in global genetic research attracting co-operations and scientists from all over the globe. 

The Faroese government has signalled serious intent to win more conferences around genetic research and similar topics. At the 2018 ICCA conference in Dubai the Faroe Islands brought along the largest delegation of 10 local politicians and decision makers. It has launched a new campaign – unordinary ideas in unordinary places – to introduce global meeting planners to its local expertise in key industries, including medical and health research, as well as marine and fishery, and sports events.

The Genetic Biobank has three registries: a Tissue Registry; a Diagnosis Registry, which is a digital health record compiling diagnoses from hospitals, primary health sector, pharmacies and dentists; and a Genealogy Registry, a hereditary family tree of the Faroese people dating all the way back to the 17th century.  

The Tissue Bank was founded in 2009 when a public call went out to the population of the Faroe Islands to go to hospital for testing for a rare genetic disease. With a population of just over 50,000, some 33,000 people came forward and left a blood sample, agreeing permission to use the blood test for future research. These samples, together with the samples of the Institute for Occupational and Public Health, formed the basis of the Biobank. The samples are kept and stored in the collaboratory biobanks in Denmark – but all data is digitalized and available for research and sample control against new projects. 

A leading researcher, Prof. Pál Weihe, has already brought many international conferences to the Faroe Islands. One of his most prestigious projects is an ongoing research into how contamination through eating whale meat and blubber has an effect on pregnant women and their children. 

Other projects are underway: Fargen is a major research project using the registries of the Biobank and it aims at identifying the genomic infrastructure of the Faroese Society by sequencing of all approximately 22,000 genes. 

The Faroese government has invested in the development of the iNOVA Research Park to further facilitate the growth of the scientific research sector. Tenants include: The Human Performance and Health Lab, focusing on human physiology; The Foodlab, a modern kitchen facility dedicated to promote research and development of Faroese foodstuffs; and The Faroese Marine Research Institute, Havstovan, which uses environmental DNA from water samples to detect and quantify the Atlantic Cod biomass on the Faroe Bank.


(via TMF)