Shetlanders head drive to find causes of illnesses

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PEOPLE living in Shetland are to lead efforts to pinpoint the causes of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have been awarded more than £600,000 to recruit 2,000 volunteers from Britain’s most northerly isles for the study to understand how genes affect our health.

Shetland has been chosen because its gene pool is relatively stable, compared with more diverse urban populations in other parts of the UK.

This helps researchers because the effect of gene variants – or changes in a person’s DNA – can be more easily identified.

The scientists will use the latest genetic analysis techniques to find the gene variants that increase the risk of developing illnesses such as glaucoma and lung disease.

The research will also look at how genes are linked to abilities, such as having a sense of direction.

Dr Jim Wilson, from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Studies, said: “If we hope to find better ways of diagnosing and treating conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, we must first understand what causes them on a very basic level.

“Research like this helps us to understand how our genes interact with our environment and behaviour to affect our health. In this way, the Viking Health Study should benefit future generations across Scotland and beyond.”

Professor Nick Hastie, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, added: “I am delighted that the Medical Research Council has recognised the considerable potential contribution that the people of Shetland can make to our understanding of human health and illness. We are excited about working with the people of Shetland.”

The study will also give the opportunity to dig deeper into the Norse Viking heritage of the Northern Isles.