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Genetic testing to be examined at trans-Tasman roundtable

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Ethical, legal and social aspects of the rapidly developing field of genetic testing will be the focus of discussion for top minds from both sides of the Tasman, gathering in Queenstown on Sunday (4 August) for the 4th Australia-New Zealand Roundtable on Genomics.

There will be two main sessions - one examining the issues surrounding prenatal testing for genetic disorders, while the other focusing on the managing of incidental findings and current issues in research involving Maori.

Both countries have produced significant research in the field, through the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) reports on the protection of human genetic information and gene patents and the recent multi-year New Zealand Law Foundation-sponsored Human Genome Research Project (HGRP) which was led by the University of Otago’s Law Faculty.

This roundtable is jointly organised by the Centre for Society, Governance and Science (SoGoS), formed last year under the umbrella of the Otago Faculty of Law, and the Human Genetics Society of Australasia’s Ethics and Social Issues Committee (HGSA) with the support of NZ Genomics Ltd, Genetics Otago, Centre for Translational Cancer Research (University of Otago) and the New Zealand Law Foundation.

Earlier roundtables have examined a wide range of legal, ethical, cultural and policy issues generated by the rapid expansion of genetic knowledge and technology.

Otago Law Faculty Dean, Professor Mark Henaghan, says the roundtable meetings are incredibly valuable as a way of both sharing knowledge and bringing together a group of leading thinkers to work through the issues.

"We will be covering a variety of topics around which well-researched guidance and policy need to be discussed and developed so situations can be dealt with in a consistent manner as and when they arise."

The first session will be chaired by Dr Jan Hodgson, Chair of the HGSA’s Ethics and Social Issues Committee.

"The first session will begin with comment from relevant experts on the scientific, practical, legal and ethical aspects of prenatal testing. Then a hypothetical clinical scenario will be introduced to generate discussion, touching on areas such as non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPS) to check if a foetus has any genetic abnormalities," Dr Hodgson says.

The second session, chaired by Professor Ingrid Winship, the Australian partner who co-initiated the Roundtable, will look at current issues in research involving Maori and examine the whole area of incidental findings.

"The latter involves the question of how do we deal with unexpected findings from genetic testing that may be potentially more clinically important than the presenting disease itself?"

The roundtable discussion sessions will involve a number of distinguished academics and researchers including: Professor Winship, who is the Inaugural Chair of Adult Clinical Genetics at the University of Melbourne; Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan, Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies at the University of Otago; Associate Professor Cris Print, joint Director of the New Zealand Bioinformatics Institute; and Associate Professor Clara Gaff, a certified genetic counsellor and a member of the HGSA Ethics and Social Issues Committee.

Roundtable attendees will also be addressed by Tony Lough, the CEO of NZ Genomics Ltd (NZGL), which is a collaboration involving the three universities - Otago, Massey and Auckland - with the Crown to deliver a genomics infrastructure to NZ researchers. NZGL is promoting the event to foster multi-disciplinary and public discussions about issues arising from health and medical uses of genomic technology.

More than 80 people are expected to attend the sessions. Organiser Richman Wee, from the Faculty of Law, says there is still space for late registrations.

The event is being held as part of the HGSA’s conference in Queenstown.

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