Attending her first SING Aotearoa conference was transformational for Jordon Lima.
New Zealand's annual Summer Internship for Indigenous Genomics (SING) Aotearoa programme, funded by Genomics Aotearoa, is designed to develop that indigenous understanding of genomics.
The week-long residential internship programme equips participants with knowledge, laboratory experience, and computational skills alongside some of New Zealand's best researchers. Given research in New Zealand should involve consultation with Iwi Māori, it's important that Māori understand the technical, ethical and cultural issues when engaging with researchers in projects.
Jordon was studying biomedical sciences at the University of Otago a lecturer (Phil Wilcox) encouraged her to attend the 2020 SING conference; an inaugural forum that brought together SING consortia from the US, Canada, and Australia.
Jordon also attended the SING Aotearoa workshop in 2021.
"All throughout my studies, I have contemplated how my cultural identity fits into my science. At SING, I was surrounded by fellow indigenous researchers and students who shared their cultural practises and experiences and had all contemplated the same thing throughout their respective studies,” she recalled.
“Indigenous scientists often feel isolated within our institutions around the world, but SING provides a safe environment for us to connect over these shared experiences and to support one another.”
"Both SING workshops were amazing. The guest speakers, who are experts in their respective fields, shared their knowledge and experience with attendees on how best to incorporate Te Ao Māori (the Māori worldview) into our research practices.”
“Most importantly, close interactions with these experts and our peers validates and builds a sense of confidence that is key for embracing our indigeneity in science. It’s been great."
"Thanks to SING Aotearoa, I am now encouraged to further develop my understandings of how Te Ao Māori can be incorporated into my research. I am also more involved in providing mentorship for other young Māori looking to pursue careers in genetics, as I was provided mentorship through SING.
And I have made long-lasting connections through this programme; I hope together we can help to shape the space for cultural identity in science in New Zealand for the future."
Jordon is working on her PhD in the Centre for Translational Cancer Research at the University of Otago, under the direction of Professor Parry Guilford and Associate Professor Karyn Paringatai. The Centre takes a genetic approach to improving the survival and quality of life of cancer patients by bringing new and more effective options for diagnosis and treatment.
About Jordon's research
Jordon's research aims to improve accessibility to cancer care for rural and Māori communities, working with the West Coast Māori Healthcare provider, Poutini Waiora, and their community.
The project aims to co-design clinical protocols for the use of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) tests to detect cancer. ctDNA is DNA shed from a tumour into the blood, which can be detected through a simple blood test and monitored over time and following treatment, with potential for greater sensitivity and accessibility than current cancer care methods.
Studies are looking at using ctDNA to manage cancer in a variety of clinical settings, so the technology can become a routine service in New Zealand. Part of this is developing a new community-based method to improve access to cancer care for rural patients.
"Cancer care is far from equitable throughout New Zealand communities" Jordon explained, "The approach I'm taking in my PhD is holistic.
Firstly, I’m looking to understand the current practises of New Zealand health providers to see what can be done better for monitoring colorectal cancers and delivering care to fit the needs. For this, I am working with Poutini Waiora to gather information on their experiences and those of their community around barriers to quality health care. This approach of meaningful engagement at the very beginning of a project aims to promote proper co-design of clinical protocols and allows community members and healthcare providers to better understand our project and intentions.”
Jordon is motivated in her work by the loss of whānau members to cancer following inadequate access to health care opportunities. This inspires her to look at fresh ways of improving access to health care for all.
"I'm hoping my PhD work will set a high standard example of how biomedical researchers can meaningfully engage with the communities they conduct research with co-designing protocols with strong emphasis on core Māori values for the design of research and health care practices. It's where I want to be."