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Upskilling our clinical work force

New Zealand is getting prepared for more genetic- and genomic-based health care options.

A need for local capability and infrastructure

A lack of both capability and infrastructure here means clinicians have typically been getting their sequencing and analysis done overseas. Fostering local capability in genomics diagnostics is therefore critical for Aotearoa to exploit the ever-growing genetic medicine opportunities being developed globally.

Building familiarity and capability in genomic testing is a step change for national laboratory services, and one leading the charge is the Canterbury District Health Board.

The DHB has been working with Clinical Genomics lead researcher Professor Stephen Robertson, developing up existing resources to analyse some of the real-world genetic-based problems the project has been researching.

Bringing local genomics capability to clinicians

"While genomics diagnosis is already being done in well-resourced countries, it's a big process for us to get this underway here – firstly to have more people on the ground with the skills needed, and also to work out how to incorporate this into laboratories, then into the wider existing health services," Professor Robertson explained.

"Working with Richard King, Clinical Director of Chemical and Genetic Pathology at the Canterbury DHB, we've shown in a small way that we can do whole genome analysis here. Developing the processes and the skills needed has primed the pump, now it’s over to these laboratories to work out how to take this forward from small scale."

Building capacity will result in quicker and cheaper diagnostics, which will mean Aotearoa’s researchers and clinicians will not need to send sequencing and analysis work offshore.

And that paves the way for more and faster genetic and genomic testing, with long-term and lasting impacts on health care in Aotearoa.

"We're on the cusp of something very big for Aotearoa; all credit to the DHB professionals we have been working with to help get this off the ground," Professor Robertson said.