Genetics 'could improve' Aboriginal health

Posted: July 2, 2012 at 1:10 am

Researchers are hoping to solve more indigenous health problems by overcoming barriers to genetic research in Aboriginal communities.

IT comes as the first research in almost a decade investigating genetic causes of disease in Aboriginal people is set to be released, after widespread opposition to the practice stymied research projects for years.

Melbourne University anthropologist Emma Kowal said research into genetic associations between diabetes and middle-ear infections would shortly be published, while studies into heart disease, kidney disease and vulval cancer started in the past two years.

Dr Kowal, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, said ethical concerns around indigenous genetic research internationally - such as its potential to inadvertently reinforce racial stereotypes - had contributed to Australian projects losing or being rejected funding.

"What we've seen in the past couple of years is that tide of opinion start to reverse," Dr Kowal told AAP.

Dr Kowal, from the university's School of Social and Political Sciences, said Australian guidelines needed to be developed for ethical genetic research in indigenous communities.

Similar guidelines had been developed in Canada, including specific guidance on how biospecimens should be collected, stored and used, Dr Kowal said.

Guidelines should also include how to effectively communicate genetic concepts to Aboriginal communities.

Australia's national research body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, the Lowitja Institute, hosted discussions between the research and indigenous communities in the past two years.

As a result, a team of indigenous and non-indigenous researchers and geneticists formed a group to develop the Australian guidelines.

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Genetics 'could improve' Aboriginal health

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