National Māori genetics research centre unveiled in Kaitāia

By Raniera Harrison

Māori genetics is at the forefront at the countrys newest Māori medical research centre officially opened today in the Far North.

The partnership between The Moko Foundation and a national alliance of world-renowned scientists and medical clinicians will look to develop tailored responses to Māori through understanding of our genetic makeup.

"Having a better idea and a clearer view on patients genetic profile is going to allow us to identify problems early and then make sure they get the right treament - not the treatment that may work but the treatment that will work" says chair and founder of The Moko Foundation, Dr. Lance O'Sullivan.

The countries newest Māori health research centre, Waharoa Ki Te Toi is at the forefront of a groundbreaking nationwide study looking for potential links between Māori genetic composition and the risk of developing metabolic diseases.

"There's lots of research that takes place within a framework of kaupapa Māori rather then conventional western science and it's really sometimes hard to marry those two frameworks" says Professor Juliet Gerrard, the Prime Ministers Chief Science Advisor - the countries highest regarded scientist.

The project recently secured $500,000 of funding as part of a nationwide research program co-ordinated by Maurice Wilkins Centre.

Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre, Professor Peter Shepherd heralds the opening of the facility.

"The genetics of Pākehā and Asian people is being studied intensively overseas, but the genetics related to Māori health is very unique to New Zealand and so we should really be putting alot of our resources in to these issues specific to us here."

Waharoa Ki Te Toi is also undertaking studies investigating the medical impacts of drivers for childhood obesity such as sugar in the diet as part of the national "Sugar in Schools" study.  

"There is an association between having a high BMI but also having a lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes so these are all challenging concepts that we want to delve deeper in to and find more about" says Conor O'Sullivan of The Moko Foundation.

Recently-knighted Sir Hekenukumai Busby will serve as the inaugural patron of the initiative which Dr. O'Sullivan says embodies the approach to be a community-led response amongst the community.

"These small communities, provincial communities do have a richness and a value to contribute and as in this case to research that will better the health outcomes for Māori" adds former New Zealander of the Year, Dr. O'Sullivan.

The centre is fully endorsed by chair of the Northland District Health Board, Dr. Nick Chamberlain and will be based at Kaitāia Hospital.