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Towards genetic research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities



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16th June 2011

The poor health status of Indigenous Australians is a major social equity challenge that requires innovative and strategic health research. While genetic research could potentially contribute to high quality research on Indigenous health problems, it has rarely been used in Indigenous research as it is raises many sensitive issues. Indigenous peoples have raised concerns about a lack of benefit to their communities, diverting attention and resources from non-genetic causes of health disparities and racism in health care, reinforcement of ‘victim-blaming’ approaches to health inequalities, possible misuse of blood samples, and challenges genetics can present to Indigenous identity and cultural beliefs. This presentation will outline the challenges of conducting genetic research in Indigenous communities, discuss successful and unsuccessful examples of Indigenous genetic research beyond Australia, and describe a current collaboration that aims to develop the tools necessary for culturally-safe genetic research. 

Dr Kowal is a cultural and medical anthropologist with a background in clinical medicine and Indigenous health research, including work and study at Menzies 2002-7. She is currently a NHMRC research fellow in anthropology in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely on Indigenous health and anthropology. She is currently conducting ethnographic research of genetic researchers who work in Indigenous communities in Australia.

Dr Emma Kowal - NHMRC Research Fellow
School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne