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Wide interest in Nordic registries at AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was founded in 1848, and represents the world’s largest scientific society. The organisation has close to 120 000 members and its annual meeting brings together thousands of participants from all around the world.

Director of NordForsk, Arne Flåøyen, opened the session and gave a brief presentation about the Nordic region and about NordForsk before introducing the first speaker, Director General of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Camilla Stoltenberg.

In her lecture entitled “When an entire region is a cohort,” Ms Stoltenberg explained how, over a long period of time, the Nordic countries have established various national registries, population-based cohorts and biobanks and made these part of the social infrastructure for research throughout the region. According to Ms Stoltenberg, this infrastructure is an innovation in its own right, but needs to be developed further to yield new knowledge in the future. She pointed out that increased cooperation across borders, covering an area with 27 million inhabitants in total, can make the Nordic countries an attractive knowledge region globally as well as locally.

Representing the Nordic Precision Medicine Initiative, which was launched in 2015, Professor Paul Franks explained the background behind the initiative and summarised what personalised medicine involves as well as the opportunities it affords. Personalised medicine will make it possible to divide up patient groups and subsequently provide more precise, targeted diagnostics and treatment, which will help to reduce unnecessary treatment. Personalised medicine carries particularly high benefits for patients suffering from rare diseases, Professor Franks pointed out.

Afterwards, Maria Nilsson spoke about NordForsk’s many years of focus on promoting Nordic research cooperation based on registry data. She heads NordForsk’s Nordic Programme on Health and Welfare which was started in 2014 and has a budget of more than NOK 400 million. The programme has funded more than 30 projects, many of which address opportunities and challenges related to registry research.

“Once upon a time it was the church authorities that collected information on residents, but today the collection of such data is an integral part of the Nordic welfare society with the help of large-scale data banks and a variety of registries. The combination of these data with national ID numbers for individuals presents unique opportunities to study all kinds of correlations across the Nordic region, such as the late effects of medical treatments or the link between health status and occupation, says Dr Nilsson.

As representative of the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Icelandic Minister for Nordic Co-operation, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, closed the session by thanking everyone for participating.

“The hundreds of years’ worth of data the Nordic countries have about their respective populations is a treasure trove, and sharing of data from different registries and biobanks across national borders is a valuable research and innovation resource. The Nordic countries see opportunities for increased transatlantic cooperation through a research and innovation initiative based on Nordic registries,” says Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson.


Maria Nilsson

Maria Nilsson

Special Adviser