The Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) at the University of Helsinki was founded with an ambitious mission: to understand the causes of human diseases, improve diagnostics, and develop new treatments for common health problems. In 2017, it embarked on a major new initiative called FinnGen, which advances the goals of personalized medicine by bringing together the genomic data and national health register data of 500,000 Finnish citizens—or a tenth of the country’s population. The field of personalized medicine aims to leverage large-scale biomedical data about populations into customized medical diagnoses and treatments for individual patients. FinnGen has partnered with nine international pharmaceutical companies as well as public institutions to become one of the largest collaborative biomedical research efforts to date.
Mari Kaunisto, Communications Director and geneticist at FinnGen, explains that the project draws on Finland’s unique genetic profile: “we have a limited amount of genetic variation in the Finnish population and very good reference genome databases.The combination of genotype information and health data enables genetic discoveries that improve our understanding of disease mechanisms, creating medical breakthroughs.” The project analyzes de-identified samples collected by participating biobanks from all over the nation, using microarrays to create genotypes. This data is then cross-referenced with comprehensive digital health records from multiple health registries that provide longitudinal information over an individual’s lifetime. The process of collecting and combining the biological and clinical information is designed to protect the privacy and ensure the consent of each individual donor, with coded records and granular controls for access and permissions.