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DNA in medicine forum draws a crowd

Speakers on stage for the DNA in medicine public forum

Melbourne Genomics recently presented its first ever public forum event, which drew a crowd of more than 180 people.

DNA in medicine: The challenges and promise of genomics brought together six expert speakers, facilitated by ABC Radio National’s Paul Barclay, to discuss how genomics is making an impact on healthcare.

Paul Barclay first invited Heather Renton, President of family advocacy and support group Syndromes Without a Name (SWAN) Australia, to tell her story. Heather’s daughter Becky was last year diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome through genomic sequencing – at nine years of age.

“It means so much to have a diagnosis for your child,” Heather explained. “It gives you something to write on forms, it means you can explain to people what is wrong, it gives you an idea of their path forward in life.”

“When we started Becky’s journey ten years ago, genomic sequencing was not an option. Now we are seeing this test being made available to more families with undiagnosed children, so that they can get answers sooner.”

Oncologist Dr Jayesh Desai highlighted how he and colleagues are using genomic sequencing to identify the genetic changes driving patients’ cancer growth, which is increasingly helping guide more targeted treatment.

“Right now, we are laying the foundations for a future of personalised medicine,” said Melbourne Genomics Executive Director, Associate Professor Clara Gaff, “But we need to get all the building blocks in place: evidence for where genomic sequencing is best used in healthcare, the systems to support its use, professionals with genomic knowledge, as well as free-flowing links between research and the clinic.”

Clara explained how Melbourne Genomics is working simultaneously to address these inter-linked challenges, through a program of work providing genomic sequencing to patients within the Victorian healthcare system.

Genetics education expert Professor Sylvia Metcalfe noted that there is a generally low level of awareness of genomics in Australia, while Executive Director of Research for Melbourne Health, Professor Ingrid Winship, explained the challenges of equitable provision of genomics across the Australian population. Dr David Hansen from CSIRO’s Australian E-health Research Centre, highlighted the importance of national and international data-sharing initiatives in genomics, which are generating more knowledge every day about our DNA.

Victoria’s Parliamentary Secretary for Medical Research, Mr Frank McGuire, welcomed the forum audience with an address on the vital importance of genomics in healthcare. The event concluded with numerous audience questions, sparking discussion on the gut microbiome, the value of testing relatives in families with identified genetic variants and the funding of genetic and genomic tests currently in use.

DNA in medicine was recorded by ABC Radio National and will be broadcast during 2017.