50 Years of Double Helix
Vanemuise Concert Hall - September 12-13, 2003
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eesti keeles

Organized by:

estonian genome fundation
estonian biocentre
EC projects GENEMILL and
EL flag

tartu ülikool
british embassy
british council

Official Carrier:
estonian air


  Estonian Genome

  tel. +372 7 420 132
  fax +372 7 440 421
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4th Annual International
Gene Forum 2003
"50 Years of Double Helix"

September 12-13, 2003, in Tartu, Estonia

Gene Forum 2003: we have to understand genetics to fight human diseases

The top scientists of the field of genetics, genomics and biotechnology, and the representatives of the biotech companies attending the two-day international conference on human genetics held in the Vanemuine Conference Hall in Tartu, assured that the constant improvement of the knowledge about the genetic background of humans enables to fight diseases more effectively. Within the framework of the Gene Forum 2003 subtitled “50 Years of Double Helix” James Watson’s “The Double Helix” translation into Estonian was published and the winners of the Biotechnology Award by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Estonian Genome Foundation and art competition “DNA Double Helix” were announced.

The fourth international conference on biotechnology organised by the Estonian Genome Foundation, held from September 12-13, discussed the possibilities of genetics and biotechnology that has been developing since the discovery of DNA’s molecular structure made by Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. This very discovery recognized by the Nobel Prize in 1962 revealed that DNA encodes hereditary information for all living things.

Prof. Zinkernagel and Prof. Metspalu
Prof. Rolf M. Zinkernagel and Prof. Andres Metspalu
More than 450 scientists, physicians, students, health care officials, investors and business executives, one fifth of them from the other Baltic States, Scandinavia, Western Europe and North America, participated in the forum. The head of the Scientific Programme Committee of Gene Forum 2003, Prof. Andres Metspalu had once again the honour to host outstanding speakers from all over the world. The high scientific level of the fourth annual conference was also revealed by the fact that the keynote speaker of the forum was the Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Rolf M. Zinkernagel. “In addition, the organisers are pleased to note that one fifth of the participants were from abroad”, said Metspalu.

In the opening session of the conference the Director and European Head of Clinical Pharmacogenomics of Pfizer Dr Duncan McHale gave an overview of the impact of genetics to drug discovery and development. The representative of IBM Lifescience Solutions Dr Ruth Taylor introduced the solutions offered by IBM for creating an information based health care system. McHale assured that the development of genetics during the last decade has increased the effectiveness of drug development programmes which has enabled to curb the increase of growing costs.

Dr. John Newton
Dr. John Newton
The session of biobanks included the lectures of the representatives of the Estonian Genome Project Foundation, Iceland’s Gene Bank Project and the UK Biobank Project. Dr Krista Kruuv, the Chairman of the Management Board of the Estonian Genome Project Foundation, gave a thorough update about the work of the last year and provided an overview of the data collection system, which has received an international quality certificate of Bureau Veritas Quality International. The implementation of the data collection system has made it possible for the Estonian Genome Project Foundation to collect health information from more than 4000 donors. The Chief Executive Officer of the UK Biobank Project, Dr John Newton, recognised the success of the Estonian project and emphasized that by today there is a common understanding in the world about the need to establish biobanks. The Biobank project in the UK will invite middle-aged volunteers to provide information about their health. What is different from the Estonian Genome Project is that the UK Biobank will not intend to give personal feedback to every participant. However, with the permission of the participants, the project will track their health after every 10 years time.

In the session dedicated to pharmacogenetics Prof. Hannu Raunio, Dr Malle Jürima-Romet and Prof. Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg gave an overview of the expectations of pharmaceutical industry related with the development of genetics. Unfortunately most of the people still do not get help from the prescribed medicines. According to estimations, only about 30% of patients respond adequately to drug treatment and about 10% of patients may experience adverse drug reactions. Thus, the challenge in front of pharmacogenetics is to develop drugs determined by the genotype of a certain group of people.

Prof. Zinkernagel
Prof. Rolf M. Zinkernagel
The second day of the forum was opened by the keynote speaker, one of the best known immunologists in the world Prof. Rolf Zinkernagel from the Institute of Experimental Immunology, University of Zurich. The Nobel Prize Laureate (1996) introduced the mechanisms of immunological memory and the possibilities of working out new vaccines. According to Zinkernagel there should be a certain balance in the organism, otherwise autoimmune disorders will occur.

More detailed discussions at the international Gene Forum focused on genetic causes of different diseases. Prof. Rudi Westendorp elaborated on the genetic control of longevity and Prof. Paolo Gasparini on genetics of hearing loss. Prof. Gasparini explained that 65-70% of hearing disorders have genetical background. The incidence of prelingual hearing loss is 1/1000 births. In the majority of cases (70-80%) it is linked to a gene DFNB1 which carrier frequency is 1 in 79 in Central and Northern Europe and 1 in 35 in Southern Europe. In Estonia, however, the frequency is much higher – 1 in 22. The team headed by Prof. Gasparini has identified approximately 40 genes which are thought to be related to hearing disorders.

The first prize (10 000 EEK) in the art competition “DNA Double Helix” organised by the Estonian Genome Foundation and the company EGeen was awarded to Kristiina Järvelaid from the Estonian Academy of Arts. The second prize (7500 EEK) was given to Erika Pedak from Tartu Art College and Jane Remm from the Estonian Academy of Arts. The third place and the prize of 5000 EEK was awarded to Ahto Külvet from Tartu University.

The winner of the second Biotechnology Award (50 000 EEK), established last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Estonian Genome Foundation, was announced at the forum. The award was given to Quattromed Ltd., a spin-off company of the University of Tartu. The project submitted to the competition was in the area of recombinant viruses and cell lines.

The Estonian translation of James Watson’s “Double Helix” published in 1968 was presented at the conference. In this worldwide famous story James Watson describes the discovery of the structure of DNA. The book “Kaksikheeliks” was translated into Estonian in co-operation between the Estonian Genome Foundation and the publishing house Elmatar. The foreword to the book is written by academician Richard Villems.

In addition to traditional events the Estonian Genome Project Foundation and the Council of Europe organised a workshop “From Ethics to Law” on September 11. As a parallel session on the first day of the conference Connect Estonia and the Estonian Genome Foundation organised a biobusiness workshop. The forum also hosted the Steering Committee meeting of ScanBalt, an organisation supporting the development of biotechnology in the Baltic Sea region.

Thanks to the sponsors and supporters 140 young Estonian scientists and almost 150 Estonian physicians and researchers were able to attend the forum with reduced participation fee. The fourth international Gene Forum 2003 was supported by the Estonian Biocentre, the Gambling Taxes Council, IBM, EGeen International, The Wellcome Trust, Tartu City Government, the University of Tartu, KPMG Estonia, the British Embassy, the British Council, Ernst & Young and Connect Estonia.