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Critically-ill Australian children receive genetic tests in record time

Institute News
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 6:26pm

Access to life-saving genomic testing for critically-ill children across Australia is a step closer, with the release of a new study that finds ultra-rapid testing can transform the diagnosis and treatment of children in intensive care.

The life-changing research was recognised last month with a $5 million grant from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, which will enable it to expand to all the states and territories.

The study published in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association, tested 108 critically ill babies and children admitted to intensive care units in 12 Australian hospitals with genetic conditions.

Test results were returned in just three days for most patients - a process that usually takes three to six months – with 51 per cent leading to a diagnosis and a change in clinical care in 75 per cent of those diagnosed.

Ultra-rapid genomic results in ICU mean the end to invasive tests for a child and reduce uncertainty for the family and treating teams. It allows parents to better understand why their child is sick, how to manage their condition and how to plan for the future. For a small number of children, a timely diagnosis enables precision treatments.

“We now have the technology and team capacity that enables us to consistently deliver a rapid diagnosis within the urgent timeframes needed when children are in intensive care,” said laboratory lead Dr Sebastian Lunke, head of Genetics and Genomics at the Victorian Clinical Genetics Service, a not-for-profit subsidiary of MCRI. 

“Importantly, we have provided ultra-rapid testing simultaneously across many hospitals in Australia, transforming patient care, and providing a blueprint for a national rapid genomic diagnosis service,” said clinical lead Associate Professor Zornitza Stark.

The next stage of the study will test more than 240 critically-ill children over three years using whole genome sequencing as a first-tier test in diagnosing rare disease. It will scale up rapid testing capacity in all states and territories. 

The Acute Care Genomics study was initially established with funding from Australian Genomics, The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, the Channel Seven Children’s Research Foundation.

The Australian Genomics Health Alliance is a national genomic collaboration established by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Future Fund.