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J Community Genet. 2016 Apr;7(2):119-26. doi: 10.1007/s12687-015-0256-y. Epub 2015 Nov 4.

Wide disparity of clinical genetics services and EU rare disease research funding across Europe.

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UCD Academic Centre on Rare Diseases (ACoRD), School of Medicine and Health Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
Department of Pathology, University of Malta, Msida, Malta.
3 Medical Genetics Unit, Mater Dei Hospital, Msida, Malta.


The origins of clinical genetics services vary throughout Europe with some emerging from paediatric medicine and others from an academic laboratory setting. In 2011, the cross-border patients' rights directive recommended the creation of European Research Networks (ERNs) to improve patient care throughout EU. In 2013, the EU recommendation on the care for rare diseases came into place. The process of designating EU centres of expertise in rare diseases is being implemented to allow centres to enter ERNs. Hence, this is an opportune time to reflect on the current status of genetic services and research funding throughout Europe as 80 % of rare diseases have a genetic origin. Our aims were to determine (a) whether EU countries are prepared in terms of appropriate clinical genetic staffing to fulfil the European Union Committee of Experts on Rare Diseases (EUCERD) criteria that will allow national centres to be designated as centres of expertise, (b) which EU countries are successful in grant submissions to EU rare disease research funding and (c) country of origin of researchers from the EU presenting their research work as a spoken presentation at the European Society of Human Genetics annual conference. Our results show there is wide disparity of staffing levels per head of population in clinical genetics units throughout Europe. EU rare disease research funding is not being distributed equitably and the opportunity to present research is skewed with many countries not achieving spoken presentations despite abstract submissions. Inequity in the care of patients with rare diseases exists in Europe. Many countries will struggle to designate centres of expertise as their staffing mix and levels will not meet the EUCERD criteria which may prevent them from entering ERNs. The establishment of a small number of centres of expertise centrally, which is welcome, should not occur at the expense of an overall improvement in EU rare disease patient care. Caution should be observed to ensure that the inequity gap that already exists does not widen with the development of ERNs.


Clinical genetics services; ESHG conference; Equity; Europe; Rare disease research funding

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