National network boosting First Nations health outcomes

National network boosting First Nations health outcomes

Illuminate newsletter header, Autumn 23
March 2023
A new network is advancing the benefits from genomic medicine for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, after winning support under the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

L-R: Dr Vanessa Bryant, Associate Professor Misty
Jenkins and Dr Charlotte Slade.

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

The five-year initiative, worth almost $5 million, is a collaboration with researchers, genetic health services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health organisations and industry partners that aims to empower First Nations leadership in genomic medicine for the future.

Landmark project

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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The national network, led by Telethon Kids Institute, the Australian National University and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, consists of six nodes across Australia.

The nodes will work in targeted areas to develop strong First Nations governance, create data systems that put sovereignty at the heart of their operations, advance genomics policy and build a workforce of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander genomics researchers and clinicians.

WEHI researchers are leading the Immunogenomics Flagship Program, with director, Professor Doug Hilton AO, an associate investigator on the project.

Associate Professor Jenkins, a proud Gunditjmara woman and a staunch advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education, said the project will bridge a vital gap in First Nations health.

“This project is a true collaboration between science and community, with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners helping build a culturally safe framework that respects the traditions and values of First Peoples,” she 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.”

The initiative, funded under the 2021 Genomics Health Futures Mission, has been heralded as an essential foundation for harnessing the power of personalised medicine to help improve health outcomes for First Peoples.