Brussels, 28 Feb 2005
Researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet are planning an international initiative to map the relationships between health, genes and lifestyle, in what they say could be one of 'the most comprehensive medical projects since the mapping of the human genome.'
Discussions are already underway with leading scientists in the US, UK, Singapore and Norway about the initiative, which has the working title 'LifeGene'. The goal would be to combine recent advances in biotechnology with information on people's lifestyles, resulting in a 'knowledge bank' that provides researchers, public authorities and decision makers with new data on the causes of disease and their prevention.
The focus, say the Swedish researchers, will be on diseases affecting the elderly, such as cancer and heart disease, and those affecting the younger population, including infections, asthma, allergies and obesity. By combining biological information with lifestyle data, LifeGene will provide for a greater understanding of the interplay between heredity, lifestyle and the environment in relation to the most common diseases.
The range of data on disease patterns and lifestyle factors needed will require the input of large groups of individuals, and while Sweden is considered a model country in this regard, no single country can achieve the goals of LifeGene on its own.
However, as John Potter of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle promisingly points out: 'Sweden's unique infrastructure means that we have the obligation and the responsibility to take part in these kinds of initiatives.'