The return is part of a groundbreaking approach that could inspire other institutions grappling with how to use historical samples ethically in research.
Last month, the Galiwin’ku community of Elcho Island off the coast of northern Australia celebrated the return of more than 200 vials of blood that were collected from their ancestors half a century ago, before modern research principles on informed consent existed. Unbeknownst to the Galiwin’ku community, the blood vials had been in freezers at the Australian National University in Canberra ever since.
It is great to see community activism and voice finally achieve an ethical outcome on a historical wrong.
Before the samples of the deceased were repatriated, the relatives gave permission for DNA to be extracted from the blood, while those still alive offered fresh samples. The genetic information will be stored in the biobank of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics (NCIG), which the Australian National University (ANU) established specifically to manage its historical samples.