Innovative genomic research projects receive federal grants

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) will establish a centre to investigate ethical issues around genomic testing and roll-out a rapid genomic diagnosis program for critically ill children after the two projects were awarded Federal Government grants.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced funding for 17 new projects worth $33 million in the first competitive grants round of the $500 million Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Genomics Health Futures Mission.

The Centre for Ethics of Paediatric Genomics will bring together national and international leaders across ethical, legal, economical and clinical sectors to further research and policy in the field of genomic medicine. Genomics uses a person’s own genetic makeup to analyse and understand their disease or cancer and unlock personalised treatments that specifically target their disease.

The centre, the first type of its kind to focus specifically on paediatric genomics, will be overseen by MCRI Biomedical Ethics Group Leader Professor Julian Savulescu and MCRI Biomedical Ethics Team Leader Dr Christopher Gyngell.

“This research will improve our understanding of the impact of rapid genomic sequencing on critically ill children and their families, clinicians and health systems,” Dr Gyngell.

“Genomics is revolutionising medicine. But peering into the genome of a child, even to save their life, raises especially difficult ethical questions. The Centre for Paediatric Genomics will unravel these puzzles – and help develop evidence-based advice and guidelines to improve policy and practice.”

The national rapid genomic diagnosis program for critically ill children will be overseen by MCRI and Victorian Clinical Genetics Services Associate Professor Zornitza Stark.

The funding for the Australian Genomics Acute Care Study will allow the vital work to be expanded across more sites and to streamline the approach to improve diagnostic rates.

More than 100 families have so far received a diagnosis under the Acute Care study which has seen a dramatic reduction in the turnaround times for sequencing results.

“This funding will enable us to test more than 240 critically-ill children over the next three years, expanding the research network to build capacity in all states and territories. It will allow us to fully evaluate whole genome sequencing as a first-tier test for ultra-rapid diagnosis,” Associate Professor Stark said.

A precision medicine for a life-threatening infantile epilepsy project, which also received a grant, will be led by University of Melbourne Professor Ingrid Scheffer, with precinct partners MCRI and The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

Australian Genomics Lead Professor Kathryn North congratulated the successful investigators and said it was an important next step in the transformation of genomics in healthcare.

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