National network to boost Indigenous health outcomes

A new national network will be established to advance the benefits from genomic medicine for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, after winning support under the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

WEHI’s Associate Professor Misty Jenkins, Dr Vanessa Bryant and Dr Charlotte Slade, in collaboration with Professor Clara Gaff from the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance, are co-leading the Victorian node of the project, funded under the 2021 Genomics Health Futures Mission.

The five-year project, worth almost $5 million, will see researchers, genetic health services, Indigenous community-controlled health organisations and industry partners unite to empower Indigenous leadership in genomic medicine for the future.

At a glance

  • Major new network to improve health outcomes for Indigenous Australians
  • WEHI researchers leading Immunogenomics Flagship Program of the national collaboration, advancing the benefits from genomic medicine for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Collaboration will see researchers, genetic health services, Indigenous community-controlled health organisations and industry partners empower Indigenous leadership in genomic medicine.

Genomics can unlock the information in our DNA to enable personalised, more targeted approaches to the prevention and treatment of a range of health conditions including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as rare diseases among Indigenous children.

L-R: Dr Vanessa Bryant, Associate Professor Misty

Jenkins and Dr Charlotte Slade

The new national network, led by Telethon Kids Institute, the Australian National University and the South Australian Medical and Research Institute, will consist of six strategically located nodes in Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia.

The Indigenous Genomics Nodes will work in targeted areas to develop strong Indigenous governance, to create data systems that put sovereignty at the heart of their operations, to advance genomics policy and to build a workforce of Indigenous genomics researchers and clinicians.

WEHI researchers are leading the Victorian node of the Immunogenomics Flagship Program. WEHI Director, Professor Doug Hilton AO, is an Associate Investigator on the project.

Associate Professor Misty Jenkins, a woman of Gunditjama descent and a staunch advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education, said the project will bridge a vital gap in Indigenous health outcomes.

“This project is a true collaboration between science and community, with our Indigenous partners helping build a culturally safe framework that respects the traditions and values of Indigenous Australians,” Associate Professor Jenkins, Laboratory Head at WEHI, said.

“That deep partnership is crucial to enable First Nations communities to truly benefit from the great advances in genomics and medical research, now and into the future.”

WEHI Laboratory Head Dr Vanessa Bryant said the project will see Indigenous Australians benefiting from Australia’s genomics efforts for the first time.

“The national network is an essential foundation for harnessing the power of personalised medicine to help improve Indigenous health outcomes,” Dr Bryant said.

The new network involves researchers from WEHI, The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, Victor Chang Cardiac Research institute, The University of New South Wales, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Queensland University of Technology, CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, Queensland Health, Griffith University, The University of Queensland, Deakin University, The University of Adelaide, University of South Australia and the WA Department of Health.

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