Viking II, a worldwide study of volunteers with ancestry from the Northern Isles of Scotland

Methodology of genetically distinct cohort study shows pathway for genomic medicine in population health.

Viking II study diagrams
Figure 1: Viking II study diagrams

The isolated populations of Orkney and Shetland are genetically distinct from mainland populations, with the highest degree of kinship and Norse blood in the British Isles and Ireland, and a unique cultural heritage. These populations are ideal for studying rarer genetic changes due to genetic drift, the large number of relatives, and availability of family tree information.

VIKING II is one of four studies in the Viking Genes project at the MRC Human Genetics Unit and the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh: Viking III, Viking II, Viking Health Study - Shetland and the Orkney Complex Disease Study (ORCADES). 

VIKING II is a global observational cohort of over 4,000 volunteers who share this distinct ancestry from the Northern Isles of Scotland. VIKING II was established with the aim of identifying genetic changes that influence risks of diseases such as heart disease, eye disease, stroke, cancer and others.

A new protocol paper entitled ‘VIKING II, a Worldwide Observational Cohort of Volunteers with Northern Isles Ancestry’ published in the International Journal of Population Data Science, describes the methods used to recruit large numbers of volunteers from around the world.

The team used online methods to successfully recruit over 4,000 people who have two or more grandparents from the Northern Isles, living anywhere in the world. They provided an option for participants in the UK to request “actionable” genetic results as part of the informed consent process. And their data was collected through an online questionnaire, which will be linked to NHS data in the electronic health record where consent was provided, and included personal and family health related data.

Saliva sampling kits were also sent out to each volunteer. These were used to extract DNA to generate a sequence that can be analysed.

We have highlighted the benefits of detailed study of these isolated UK populations. We have also explained our strategy for conducting the return of actionable genetic results under the guidance of a clinician geneticist. This should be of general interest, as genomic medicine approaches to population health become more widespread.

Dr Shona Kerr
Project Manager - Viking Genes

The paper, published in the International Journal of Population Data Science (IJPDS), details the various processes required for all of the study processes to run smoothly and securely, and reach the target number of volunteers taking part in the research.

VIKING II, a worldwide observational cohort of volunteers with northern isles ancestry