Wellington Health Tech Network

5 July 2018

Dr Sara Filoche is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago, Wellington, whose work is centered around improving access to healthcare and reducing health inequities. Her work involves exploring clinical care pathways to better understand where and what the gaps are in health care provision –for uterine cancer, management of gestational diabetes and mental health services. In addition, Sara is interested in public health genetics and genomics, ensuring equitable access to genetic and genomic medicine as it becomes mainstreamed. She is currently leading a programme of work around the introduction of a genetic-based test into prenatal screening services.

Sara’s research is based upon the respectful use of the national maternity information gathered from National Health Index information. Gaining insights from this data gave opportunities to see trends and complete comparisons - all with guidance from the National Ethics Advisory Committee on processes of consent, regulation and access. Sara utilises the vast amount of data from multiple data sources and explores it to provide information on national rates of babies born with low birth weight, lung disease and those who have passed away. Other things that can be looked for include how many babies and mothers were offered correct treatments or screening at the right times. The data is encrypted to ensure it is anonymous and Sara felt there was also a need for data scientists to be on the ethics committees to ensure their view is incorporated for the benefit of positive research.

Dr Kevin Ross is the General Manager of Precision Driven Health, an award-winning partnership applying data science and analytics to enable precision health. He is also Director of Research at Orion Health.

Kevin is involved in a $38 million partnership between the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Orion health looking at utilising new data in health genomics and other sources. Kevin explained the vast future potential for the use of genomic (genetic) data combined with corresponding social profile and behavioural choices to offer a predictive personalised tool for risk and recovery. Kevin explained that data gathered from worn devices (which monitor health factors) or even our mobile phones may be utilised to create unique ‘social preference profiles’ and this information can then be used to determine risk calculators for certain types of disease. It may also be a future way of predicting the level of need and care someone may require aiding recovery or preventing relapse. Software is being developed to create such decision systems which can be used to guide health professionals in the future. The software can integrate large amounts of data from large quantity of patients using their vital signs monitoring along with previous clinical decisions to offer deep learning.

Another growing area for development is known as ‘pharmacogenomics’ and involves looking at which medications will work with specific genetic make-up of different ethnic groups.

Professor Peter Dearden has a background in genetics, biochemistry and physiology at Victoria University of Wellington and a PhD in the development of the nervous system. Peter is the Director of Genetics at Otago University in 2009, Associate Dean of Research (Division of Health Sciences) in 2015 and the Director of Genomics Aotearoa in Feb 2018. Peter is a past recipient of the Genetics Society of Australasia Ross Crozier Medal for outstanding contributions to genetics.

Peter discussed the current platform (funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and others) to complete mapping of the unique New Zealand genomic data. This involves working principles of Te Ao Maori with appropriate guardianship and partnership to gain a New Zealand data repository and bioinformatic resource for the health and support of the future generations. This will allow researchers to develop ways to address key gaps in genomics and move towards precision medicine to define and measure genetic liability to certain disease states. A positive aspect will be to balance current inequities in health for minority groups by not just importing international genomic data, which would not offer the right information as would not include Maori and Pacific data. This project is mapping the genetic variability in New Zealand and is called Variome; having this data will be vital to many future research studies.