In short, what is your research project about? What are you researching and why?
We study whether information about the genetic risk (here ApoE4) to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) helps people change their lifestyle and whether it affects their health and taste attitudes. We also study the ethical issues related to genetic testing, including stress effects in test persons, data management and privacy. In addition, we study the effects of intervention intensity and length.
CVD and AD are common in Finland and will still increase in prevalence as the population ages. Both diseases can be largely prevented by a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, low alcohol consumption, no smoking). Because the healthcare costs of CVD and AD are remarkably high, efficient interventions might save a lot of costs. ApoE4 is rather common in the Finnish population, which might be used as a motivating factor.
There is much talk about multi-, trans- and interdisciplinarity nowadays. Are these merely trendy buzzwords for scientific collaboration, or do they serve an instrumental purpose in your project?
Motivation is important when trying to change lifestyles. If genetic information is used, however, there are more potential practical and ethical problems than just the stress caused by risk information, such as should the family members also know, and what is the possibility that data will go to third parties such as insurance companies. Experience in prevention management is essential in addition to knowledge of food, nutrition and ethics research. All this basic knowledge exists in our group. To be successful, this study will thus require integration of specialised knowledge and expertise from different fields. Close collaboration between the scientific participants is the only way to achieve such integration.
Research into personalised health involves an integrative “from-research-to-practice” mindset. Where do you place your own research in this context? Does your project have partners that are not research-related partners?
Our collaborator is the South Ostrobothnian Medical District, and we will use their laboratory for blood sampling and their patient information system for communicating with study participants. Thus, the interventions run largely in a real-life environment.
A big fuss over nothing, or a major change in practices? In your estimation, how and when will the effects of the promotion of personalised health be evident in the healthcare system?
If any of our intervention models can be proved to be efficient, they could be introduced in the normal healthcare system within a few years. The costs of gene tests for one age group (some 50,000–60,000 persons/year) are rather low when compared to the one-year costs of Alzheimer’s disease (some €5bn, according to the University of Eastern Finland). The laboratory markers can be selected from those which will change during our intervention. Plenty of self-monitoring tests are already available.
Hietaranta-Luoma et al. 2018. Lifestyle Genomics 11(3–6), 147-154.