The Nordic countries have a high level of expertise and should increase their cooperation on research based on biobanks and registry data as well as on clinical research.
This is the view being put forth by the Joint Committee of the Nordic Medical Research Councils (NOS-M), which is comprised of representatives from the Nordic research councils. In a strategy memo presented recently, the joint committee identified two areas in which there is great potential for strengthening Nordic medical research cooperation: biobanks and clinical research.
Nordic competitive advantage
The health-related challenges in the Nordic countries are similar to those in the rest of the Western world: an ageing population, new lifestyle diseases, resistance to antibiotics and the rapid spread of infectious diseases in a globalised world. There are also complicated ethical issues arising from new technology and challenges related to social inequalities in health.
The Nordic countries have two especially strong cards to play when addressing these challenges: highly-developed biobanks and well-functioning public health services.
Extensive registries and biobanks
The Nordic countries have compiled top-quality health registries and large biobanks. Combined with the countries’ personal identity number schemes, this provides an excellent starting point for pioneering medical research.
“Everything is in place for carrying out medical research of high scientific merit,” says Professor and Dean Stig Slørdahl of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. Dr Slørdahl is the representative for the Research Council of Norway on the joint committee and serves as the committee’s chair.
Clinical testing of new medications, genetic research and studies of the impact of various environmental factors on human health are a few examples of research that will benefit from the information stored in the biobanks.
High-quality health services
The Nordic countries’ other strong card is their public health services. The services maintain a high standard, are well organised, employ highly qualified personnel and state-of-the-art equipment, and are available to the entire population.
Moreover, the Nordic universities and university hospitals are publicly owned. Together with the high level of services, this provides an outstanding basis on which to conduct clinical medical research.
The Nordic countries have many similarities and a longstanding tradition of political cooperation. This provides a good foundation for success in medical research cooperation as well.
A Nordic project to develop joint research infrastructure for biobanks and enhance integrated utilisation of their inherent potential is scheduled for start-up in 2011. The first planned activity will be a pilot project focusing on colon cancer.
In 2010, the Research Council of Norway allocated NOK 80 million to upgrade the equipment in the Norwegian biobanks and coordinate them as a unified national entity through the 10-year large-scale research infrastructure initiative.