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Otago Biochemistry Emerging Researcher to investigate genetics of kidney disease and gout specific to Māori and Pacific people

Wednesday 27 May 2020 10:09am

Dr Megan Leask standing in a corridor in the Otago Department of Biochemistry building.
Research Fellow Dr Megan Leask.

Congratulations to Otago Biochemistry Research Fellow Dr Megan Leask, who has been awarded an HRC Emerging Research First Grant to investigate genes associated with chronic kidney disease and gout in Māori and Pacific people. 

The $250,000, two-year grant will enable Dr Leask to identify clinically important gene variants in these populations using data from genome-wide association studies. Her research also aims to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying these diseases.

Researchers use genome-wide association studies to identify genes involved in disease. They do this by searching the human genome for small variations that occur more in people with a particular disease than in people without the disease.

These kind of studies can help to develop 'personalised medicine', an approach that uses genetic information and lifestyle to tailor diagnostic and treatment decisions for an individual.

Dr Leask is excited about the prospect of using personalised medicine in the future. However, concern that Māori and Pacific people could be left behind due to lack of knowledge about gene variants in their populations helps motivate her research. 

"If we only have [genetic] data for Europeans, that will exacerbate the inequalities between Europeans and other ethnicities further", explained Dr Leask. 

Dr Leask was awarded a Māori Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship two years ago to work on reducing the burden of Metabolic disease in Māori with Professor Tony Merriman at the Otago Department of Biochemistry.

She has also carried out her BSc Honours and PhD in the Department with Professor Peter Dearden, and a post doctoral fellowship with Professor Julia Horsfield in the Otago Department of Pathology.