An epidemiological perspective of personalized medicine: the Estonian experience

J Intern Med. 2015 Feb;277(2):188-200. doi: 10.1111/joim.12320.


The Estonian Biobank and several other biobanks established over a decade ago are now starting to yield valuable longitudinal follow-up data for large numbers of individuals. These samples have been used in hundreds of different genome-wide association studies, resulting in the identification of reliable disease-associated variants. The focus of genomic research has started to shift from identifying genetic and nongenetic risk factors associated with common complex diseases to understanding the underlying mechanisms of the diseases and suggesting novel targets for therapy. However, translation of findings from genomic research into medical practice is still lagging, mainly due to insufficient evidence of clinical validity and utility. In this review, we examine the different elements required for the implementation of personalized medicine based on genomic information. First, biobanks and genome centres are required and have been established for the high-throughput genomic screening of large numbers of samples. Secondly, the combination of susceptibility alleles into polygenic risk scores has improved risk prediction of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and several other diseases. Finally, national health information systems are being developed internationally, to combine data from electronic medical records from different sources, and also to gradually incorporate genomic information. We focus on the experience in Estonia, one of several countries with national goals towards more personalized health care based on genomic information, where the unique combination of elements required to accomplish this goal are already in place.

Keywords: Estonia; biobanks; eHealth; electronic medical records; genomic medicine; personalized medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Specimen Banks
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / genetics
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Estonia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Molecular Epidemiology* / trends
  • Precision Medicine* / trends