Finland is a homogeneous population of about 5.5 million people, geographically isolated from the rest of the world. The vast majority of Finns share a common heritage, and they also seem largely willing to participate in clinical health studies. Three out of four Finns will agree to be a research subject, and thankfully, access to their clinical records is relatively easy, for both domestic researchers and foreign scientific collaborators. After thousands of years of isolation, Finns have become a relatively uniform population, genetically speaking. Additionally, the genealogies of Finns trace back numerous generations and hundreds of years, providing plenty of correlated genetic information and an excellent source of scientific data to study.

This case study examines the impact of Finland’s unique genetic resources, and its implications for global biotech policy.

Biotechnology, as all sciences, advances step by step and builds on fortuitous and often serendipitous discoveries. In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and a sample of her cancerous tissue cells were taken — without her knowledge or consent — and grown in a petri dish. For decades prior, scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive under laboratory conditions without success, but the tumor cells taken from Henrietta Lacks exhibited a remarkable ability to grow and thrive. These HeLa cells became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory. Since 2001, five Nobel prizes have been awarded based on research performed with HeLa cells. Trillions of HeLa cells have been bought and sold and used in medical studies all over the world, and they continue to contribute to the advancement of medicine and biology.

This case study examined the history and impact of HeLa cells and their unique policy implications.

We live in a genomic age. The amount of important medical and biotech research happening today involving genes is staggering.  And much of it goes back to the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The seeds of PCR development can be traced back to the 1970s, and the practical PCR machinery that fueled a biotechnology revolution started running in the 1980s. This innovation was quickly recognized with a Nobel prize in 1993, only about 10 years after its invention and approved patent application. PCR has accelerated the pace of innovation in biotech, and its contribution to society is immense.

This case study examines the impact of PCR and its wide availability to scientists.