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Innovative genomic research projects receive federal grants

Research News
Thursday, May 7, 2020 - 10:07am

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) will establish a ground-breaking centre to investigate ethical issues around paediatric genomic testing after being awarded funding in the Federal Government’s recent $33 million research grants ground.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced funding for 17 new projects in the first competitive grants round of the $500 million Genomics Health Futures Mission, part of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

An Australian Genomics study into ultra-rapid genomic testing for children in intensive care was also awarded major funding, which will enable it to expand its network to include all states and territories.

The Centre for Ethics of Paediatric Genomics will bring together national and international leaders across ethical, legal, economical and clinical sectors to further research and policy in the field of genomic medicine. Genomics uses a person’s own genetic makeup to analyse and understand their disease or cancer and unlock personalised treatments that specifically target their disease.

The centre, the first of its kind to focus specifically on paediatric genomics, will be overseen by MCRI Biomedical Ethics Group Leader Professor Julian Savulescu and MCRI Biomedical Ethics Team Leader Dr Christopher Gyngell.

“This research will improve our understanding of the impact of rapid genomic sequencing on critically ill children and their families, clinicians and health systems,” Dr Gyngell.

“Genomics is revolutionising medicine. But peering into the genome of a child, even to save their life, raises especially difficult ethical questions. The Centre for Paediatric Genomics will unravel these puzzles - and help develop evidence-based advice and guidelines to improve policy and practice.”  

The national ultra-rapid genomic diagnosis program for critically ill children will be led by MCRI and Victorian Clinical Genetics Services Associate Professor Zornitza Stark. It will build on the success of the Australian Genomics Acute Care Study, which has already provided a diagnosis to more than 100 families, and delivered a dramatic reduction in the turnaround times for sequencing results.

The new funding will allow the vital work to be expanded to full national coverage, delivering fast and accurate diagnosis for critically ill babies and children from around Australia.

“This funding will enable us to test more than 240 critically-ill children over the next three years, expanding the research network to build capacity in all states and territories. It will allow us to fully evaluate whole genome sequencing as a first-tier test for ultra-rapid diagnosis,” Associate Professor Stark said.  

A precision medicine for a life-threatening infantile epilepsy project, which also received a grant, will be led by University of Melbourne Professor Ingrid Scheffer, with precinct partners MCRI and The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. 

Australian Genomics Lead Professor Kathryn North congratulated the successful investigators and said it was an important next step in the transformation of genomics in healthcare.