Breadcrumbs

Indigenous genomics under the microscope at SING conference

24 January 2020

Maui Hudson
Associate Professor Maui Hudson was part of this year's SING Indigenous Genomics Conference at the University of Waikato.

The University of Waikato is hosting the first ever SING Indigenous Genomics Conference as international scientists gather to discuss how they can work together.

The Summer Internship for Indigenous Genomics (SING) Consortia, which has organised the event, has been running workshops in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for the past 10 years. A combined workshop has been running in Raglan since Monday to plan for the future of the consortia and prepare for the conference.

Associate Professor from the university’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, Maui Hudson, said it’s the first time a conference has focussed specifically on the field of Indigenous genomics and with papers presented entirely by Indigenous speakers.

“While there is a growing interest in working with Indigenous genomes, from both people and the environment in research worldwide, there are only a small number of Indigenous people internationally working in this field.”

He said genomics research as a field was shifting from just being available for people with rare diseases and cancers, to a place where, over time, genome sequences would become a normal part of peoples’ medical records and would be used to target medicines specific for a patients’ genetic makeup.

The problem for Indigenous populations, however, was the reference genomes used to inform precision medicine have been produced for European populations.

Dr Phil Wilcox from the University of Otago is currently leading work in New Zealand to create a reference genome for the Māori population, which could be used as a basis for clinical diagnoses around genetic conditions specific to Māori. There was similar work happening with some First Nations communities in Canada too.

“We know if we want to create precision medicines for Indigenous communities, we need population specific reference genomes for Indigenous communities, and that’s what this work is about.”

However, he said there were often challenges around that work happening.

“A history of marginalisation and mistrust of genetic research and, in particular, the treatment and storage of tissue used in genome research has been a large barrier for Indigenous peoples,” he said.

As a result, Professor Hudson, Dr Wilcox and their colleagues created the world’s first Indigenous led guidelines for research with Māori.

“What we found was while there had been a general aversion of getting involved in genetic research, a number of Māori have conditions that require this kind of intervention and they don’t really have a choice.”

He said for Māori, concerns centred on the protection of whakapapa and through their work they had adopted the concept of Tākoha.

He said koha is often conceptualised as a gift. Tākoha is a form of gifting that recognises the tapu associated with a gift and indicates that conditions are to be applied to the taonga being gifted.

“It is centred on the idea that the gift being given when people participate in genome research is the gift of responsibility, rather than physical tissue samples themselves. The Te Mata Ira guidelines outline what those responsibilities look like.”

Professor Hudson shared information about his latest project to develop biocultural labels at the conference. The labels are designed to create transparency around research with Indigenous genomes, integrity in how the information is being used, and maintain the provenance of the information over time to ensure participants continued to benefit from any future developments.

Dr Katharina Ruckstuhl, another of the co-conveners of SING Aotearoa, felt the presentations at the SING Indigenous Genomics Conference shared ideas from other Indigenous communities about the nature of responsible genomic research.

“The conference gives us a chance to explore how the SING consortia can expand training to other communities around the globe including non-Indigenous science communities,” she said.

Latest stories

Related stories

Man driving car

Backseat drivers are more helpful than you think

Having a passenger in the car can make a trip safer and more enjoyable, compared…

rangi

Māori astronomer receives Prime Minister's award

University of Waikato Professor Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe), has been awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Communications…

Rare giant squid caught in the Bay of Plenty will assist MPI research

A giant squid caught off Whakaari/White Island, will be used by University of Waikato marine…

newsroom.co.nz

The state removal of Māori children from their families is a wound that won't heal - but there is a way forward

Too many New Zealand children are born into a state of crisis, as two recent…

Te Tohu Paetahi graduate credits programme for changing his life

For Anaru Palmer, a year studying te reo Māori through Te Tohu Paetahi at The…

Researchers focussed on tackling the difficult environmental decisions

A team of University of Waikato researchers, led by Professor Iain White, have received $625,000…

Luke Moss

Desire to normalise te reo leads student to create his own clothing line

At first glance, Luke Moss would appear to be like any other university student. But…

Cyber security project led by the University of Waikato receives $2m from MBIE

A team of University of Waikato cyber security researchers have received $2m in Ministry of…

Emerging climate policies to affect the producers of oil, gas, and coal

A University of Waikato expert in energy law and mining says countries producing fossil fuels…

Debashish Munshi, Priya Kurian and Sandy Morrison

100% climate resilient?

New research asks how prepared is Aotearoa’s highly valuable tourism sector for the coming impacts…

Professor Anna Strutt

Waikato professor accepts two new international appointments

University of Waikato Professor of Economics, Anna Strutt, joins some of the world’s best academic…

Dr Kim Hébert-Losier

University of Waikato study puts Nike shoes under the spotlight

As World Athletics clarifies the rules on shoe technology in the face of the Nike…