Anezka Hoskin is hoping that a career in medical genomics will help in the fight against diseases currently affecting the Māori community.
Anezka, one of SING Aotearoa's alumni, is completing her University of Otago masters project with Professor Tony Merriman and Dr Phillip Wilcox, as part of a significant research partnership between the University and Ngāti Porou Hauora.
SING Aotearoa, supported by Genomics Aotearoa, is part of an international SING network. It offers a week-long residential internship programme designed to develop indigenous understanding of genomics alongside some of the world’s best researchers.
For New Zealand, the cultural perspectives of Indigenous populations need to be included as part of research. It’s therefore important that researchers consult with iwi on their projects and consider how to safeguard taonga, and it’s important that Māori understand the technical and ethical issues when engaging with researchers.
The SING Aotearoa programme she attended in 2019 provided an invaluable pathway for Anezka to build her genomics experience and knowledge, and to develop direction in incorporating Te Ao Māori into genomics work. It has also proven a strong support network for a very wide range of people interested in genomics, in New Zealand and overseas. “SING is not a one-off course; rather the links between early career researchers, academics and people working in all aspects of community engagement provides active support to incorporate Māori world perspectives into research and to engage with communities. It's very empowering.”
"The potential for genomics to solve problems for my community like metabolic disease is huge – it’s a rewarding place to be working, but there are many perspectives to consider for research to be truly effective. So having that strong network, comradery and access to knowledge from SING helps. I want to be able to incorporate indigenous knowledge into research best practice and the SING network makes me feel empowered in my journey – it's making the future a lot less daunting."
About Anezka's research
Heritability plays a big part in gout and type 2 diabetes, both of which disproportionally affect Māori, but existing knowledge is based on research into European ethnicities – there is little understanding of the inheritance of such metabolic diseases in Māori and Polynesian people.
Anezka has been using two different methods – a candidate genetic variant and a genome wide approach – to calculate heritability risk scores on samples from Māori and Polynesian communities to improve this indigenous knowledge. The idea is to quantify the genetic effects, so that solutions can eventually be tailored and targeted for more effective treatment of gout and type 2 diabetes.
An interest in genetics stemmed from Anezka’s biology studies at school in Auckland, but was fuelled when her sister landed in hospital suffering from type one diabetes. The family was suddenly propelled into the world of medical genetics they knew little about. Anezka, who affiliates with Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahu and Te Aitanga Hauiti, was shocked to learn how much Māori are affected by diseases like diabetes and gout, yet there is very little genetic understanding into what, why and how.
My dream job since I started has been to work with Māori communities to make this better.
A serendipitous introduction with Professor Merriman and Dr Wilcox after that guided her to a University of Otago summer project, then a Bachelor of Science majoring in genetics, a scholarship overseas to study in Seattle, and post-graduate genetics studies at Otago. It will soon be followed with PhD studies.
Read more about the importance of incorporating indigenous voices in this paper in Nature Genetics: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41588-020-0585-6