Laying the foundation for the future of Indigenous health with genomic medicine

22 Oct 2021
Laying the foundation for the future of Indigenous health with genomic medicine

The foundation for the future of health for Indigenous Australians is set to be laid, with the formation of a National Indigenous Genomics Consortium, to be led by one of SAHMRI’s founding researchers, Professor Alex Brown.

Professor Brown has been awarded a prestigious $5 million-dollar Synergy grant by the NHMRC to lead the consortium in establishing Australia’s first large scale efforts in Indigenous genomics. The team is united by the goal of ensuring diverse populations have equitable access to the life-changing potential of genomic medicine.

Genomics is the study of genes encoded in an individual's genome, the set of instructions in our DNA.

Professor Brown, the leader of SAHMRI’s Aboriginal Health Equity Theme, says the relatively recent field of medical research represents a once-in-a-generation chance for advancement in health and medical sciences.

“Australia is on the cusp of a new era in personalised medicine that will bring deeper insights into the architecture of rare diseases among children and common diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” Prof Brown said.

“Unfortunately, Indigenous Australians have been missing out on accessing the benefits of genomics and clinical care due to being excluded from national genomics efforts.”

The consortium brings together national leaders in Indigenous health, data sciences, genomics, ethics, population and clinical genetics from partners including the Australian National University, Telethon Kids Institute, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the University of Adelaide, University of New South Wales, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Western Australia.

Professor Brown says the interdisciplinary approach will allow for the development of an interface that will embed genomics into Aboriginal health care.

“By combining genomic science with health research, health care delivery, data sciences, ethics, policy, Indigenous knowledge systems and community engagement, we will enable fair, culturally safe and responsive access to the benefits of genomic medicine for all,” Prof Brown said.

The major undertaking will create jobs for an Indigenous and non-Indigenous genomics workforce and grow connections between the health industry and Indigenous communities.

It will also define and communicate policy, target the major causes of inequality experienced by Indigenous Australians and reduce the time it takes for Indigenous children to be diagnosed with rare diseases.

The consortium plans to develop governance and administrative mechanisms collaboratively over the coming months.

The consortium defines its purpose as enshrining Indigenous peoples’ sovereign rights to define, lead and fulfil their own destiny in a rapidly changing genomics landscape.

Synergy grants provide $5 million over five years to support outstanding multidisciplinary teams of investigators collaborating in search of answers to major questions that can’t be resolved by a single investigator alone. Successful recipients are generally teams boasting diversity across gender, career stage and cultural background, which work together to address major problems in human health.