The genetics in Iceland are now the most understood of any country in the world.
Can a study of genetics in Iceland predict an entire population’s genome sequence? A comprehensive study encompassing the genome database of the entirety of Iceland’s demographic make-up reveals interesting health information. The complete DNA of 2,636 Icelanders has been the largest collection ever analyzed in a single human population.
Genetics in Iceland is relatively isolated, the majority of its settles coming from other parts of Scandinavia and nearby Ireland and Scotland. It isn’t a large gene pool to attempt to trace back to.
DeCode Genetics CEO, Kari Stefansson, wants to identify his country’s population and their risks for health issues. Genome sequences of 10,000 individuals were collected in full, measuring the mortality risks such as cancer.
However, rules of ethics governing DNA research prevent his research from warning the people of Iceland. This raises profound questions not only about genetics in Iceland but it also raises questions around the world, complex medical and ethical issues about whether DeCode and similar genetic research companies should share this sensitive information with the public. These questions turn a study on genetics in Iceland into a study on bioethics.
It’s the mutation in a gene BRCA2 that indicates a high-risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Of the 10,000 individuals, 2,000 mutations were identified. The problem Stefansson has with health authorities is that alerting the public of their findings could potentially save people premature death. He feels that if it could save people, not sharing the research is a crime. “We could save these people from dying prematurely, but we are not, because we as a society haven’t agreed on that,” Stafansson told BBC News.
The Icelandic Ministry of Welfare is organizing a special committee with the goal of regulating sensitive research findings. A decision is to be made by the end of this year.
Another important development about this revolutionary study about genetics in Iceland is its encouraging future studies of precision medicine. Dr. Stefansson encouraged this stating, ““Other countries are now preparing to undertake their own large-scale sequencing projects, and I would tell them the rewards are great.”
Not surprisingly (as U.S biotech, Amgen company owns DeCode Genetics) the U.S. plans to develop its own DNA study. When the time comes, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising for the same bioethical complexities to resurface.