|Health News - updated 6:12 PM ET Dec 14||
Thursday December 14 10:16 AM ET
TALLINN, Estonia (Reuters) - The Estonian parliament Wednesday passed a law allowing the creation of a nationwide gene bank that scientists say will be the world's biggest--and a treasure trove for genetics-based health research.
The lawmakers adopted the Human Genes Research Act--which puts tiny Estonia at the forefront of a global ethical and legal debate on the use of genetic material--by a vote of 42-3 with one abstention.
``This means that we can really get started,'' said Andres Metspalu, professor of biotechnology at the University of Tartu and one of the main proponents of the gene bank, which will be used to study links between genes and disease.
The law sets rules on how genetic material can be collected, processed and stored in order to protect donors. The bank aims to collect DNA from a million of Estonia's 1.4 million population over the next five years.
The act limits the use of the gene bank's data to scientific research sanctioned by a new nonprofit foundation to be established in the next few months, and imposes jail sentences for the misuse of genetic information.
The law requires that participation by gene donors must be voluntary and their identity kept secret. It forbids employers and insurance companies to collect genetic data on clients or workers, and bans use of the data as evidence in law courts.