Calling Sweden an "epidemiological goldmine," Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm is now undertaking a project to regularly gather information on the health and lifestyles of 500,000 Swedes - as well as blood and urine samples - and use these in a project called LifeGene, which aims at furnishing scientists at universities around the world with data that can help them improve diagnostics, treatments and prevention of human ailments.

"Modern research techniques, new communication technology, advanced and increasingly high throughput laboratory methods, as well as developments in genetics have created unique conditions for studying the origin of disease," stated Nancy Pedersen, professor of genetic epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet and director of the LifeGene project, which was launched at BIO2010 conference held this year in Chicago.


Amounting to Sweden’s largest health related population study, participation in the LifeGene project, which is hosted by KI and approved by the country's national Ethics Review Board, is voluntary and participants are monitored for many years with regular health checks and lifestyle questionnaires.

Participants' blood and urine samples will be frozen and stored in a gigantic underground facility at KI in Solna, just north of Stockholm. People taking part in the project will also answer general questions about their lives and habits in order for scientists to better understand the links between lifestyle, environment, genes and disease.

By building a data base that follows the development of participants’ health over a long period from birth to 45 years of age, LifeGene will allow researchers at home and abroad to explore the development of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, asthma and heart illnesses.

Other health based population studies mainly comprise individuals over the age of 45 and focus on diseases that normally appear around middle age. Because parents may include their children from birth, the unique LifeGene project will give vital information on diseases that occur early in life. All data collected for the project is to be coded, and LifeGene has pledged never to release information that could lead to the identification of participants.

"Thanks to various health registries and biobanks, the Nordic countries are better equipped than any other to lead the development of disease prevention and improve public health. This requires new and visionary efforts. LifeGene is one such effort," concluded Pedersen.