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Australia Revisits Samples from Indigenous Australians

Australia has a cache of blood samples collected from indigenous Australians in the 1960 and 1970s that could be used to reconnect families and help treat disease, but the samples are tinged with a legacy of racism and exploitation, the Guardian reports. Some 7,000 samples were collected from indigenous Australians living in small communities in the north of the country and were used in research until a moratorium was put in place in the 1990s due to ethical concerns.

Researchers at the Australian National University's National Centre for Indigenous Genomics, where the samples are currently in storage, have been tracking down the people from whom these samples came and their families to obtain consent to study their stored DNA, the Guardian adds. It notes that this endeavor has been aided by the fact that such genetic information could be used to help members of Australia's stolen generation — indigenous children who were removed from their homes by federal and state governments — find their families. At the same time, genetic studies could uncover why indigenous Australians are prone to certain diseases.

Emma Kowal, the deputy director of the center, adds that the researchers are following a dynamic consent model in which the donors can give or withdraw consent for various projects and applications to access the data generated would be reviewed by the Indigenous governance board.

"Indigenous people should not have to choose between bad science and good clinical care," Kowal tells the Guardian.

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