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19 February 2024

ALIGN and Thermo Fisher Scientific are pleased to announce that Ms Sarah Munns has been awarded the Thermo Fisher Scientific Scholarship for Indigenous Genomics.

Sarah is a Murri woman who grew up on Minang Noongar Country. She has a Bachelor of Science with Honours from Murdoch University (Perth), where she was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Commendation for Academic Excellence for three consecutive years, and a Master of Infectious Diseases from the University of Western Australia.

Having previously worked as an Aboriginal Research Assistant in the Building Respiratory Equity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (BREATH) Team at Telethon Kids Institute, and held a part-time secondment to the Kulunga Aboriginal Unit working to update of the Telethon Kids Institute’s Guidelines for the Standards for the Conduct of Aboriginal Health Research to embed Indigenous data sovereignty principles. Sarah currently works as an Aboriginal Research Assistant in the Indigenous Genomics Team.

Dr Sam Buckberry and Professor Alex Brown will supervise Sarah’s PhD, which will be conducted at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, and enrolled through the Australian National University in Canberra. Her project will focus on Type-2 diabetes (T2D), which is a cardiometabolic condition that if not properly managed can progress with life-threatening complications. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience disproportionately higher rates of T2D and associated complications than non-Indigenous Australians.

Sarah will explore the role of the epigenome, which involves modifiable molecular tags that can influence the function of genes without any direct change in the genetic sequence. These changes can influence gene expression, which can in turn influence what proteins the body produces, with subsequent impacts on cell function, health and the development or response to disease. Her project will apply the latest techniques in epigenomics to investigate a longitudinal cohort of Aboriginal people from South Australia with and without T2D.

This will be the largest known genome-wide epigenomic study of a cardiometabolic condition and will contribute to the development of screening tools that can more accurately predict T2D development and progression in Aboriginal people. By improving the ability to screen and monitor T2D, clinical interventions can be delivered earlier leading to the greater possibility of avoiding the development of more severe disease.

This scholarship has been funded by Thermo Fisher Scientific over 4 years to support excellence in research by a student commencing post graduate studies in Indigenous genomics, within the Australian Alliance for Indigenous Genomics (ALIGN) network. Applicants were assessed by an independent panel on their track record relative to opportunity, the merit of their proposed project, and the alignment of their project with the objectives of ALIGN.

ALIGN and Thermo Fisher Scientific are pleased to support Sarah in her important and exciting research, and look forward to her future success.

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