Meet our brilliant minds: Ngaire Elwood

Tell us about yourself and how you came to be part of MCRI and the BMDI Cord Blood Bank.

I developed a real interest in leukaemia, blood cells and stem cells when I was a teenager. I had bone cancer when I was 15 and was treated at The Royal Children's Hospital. After having survived that, I wanted to devote my career path towards improving cancer outcomes.

Therefore, I did my undergraduate degree in pharmacology, then a masters and PhD separately, where I worked on stem cells, leukaemia and blood stem cells. This led to working overseas and in 2001 I came back to Melbourne to set up the stem cells research laboratory in the Children's Cancer Centre. 

Seven years later, the position for Director of the BMDI Blood Bank became available and really appealed to me because it was very translational. It was doing something really practical with cord blood, but also an enormous opportunity to continue doing cord blood research with the resources we have here. I applied for the position and got it.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you've faced with working at the BMDI Cord Blood Bank and in cord blood research?

Cord blood transplants and cord blood banking is a global initiative, which is an amazing opportunity. We send cord blood all over the world for patients. I'm also a cord blood bank inspector and help write standards for international cord blood banking. 

This opportunity has been phenomenal – you get to know people in the field from all over the world and can just shoot them an email whenever you have a question. It also means that you're benchmarking yourself against international standards, and you know that you're operating at world's best practice, which is what it's all about for the patients.

The main challenge for cord blood banking has been the pace of how things have changed and moved. It's also about keeping up with the changing pace of the information. 

Another challenge we're facing is educating people about cord clamping and how some mothers are choosing to delay cord clamping to a point that makes it difficult to acquire blood or not at all.

What excites you about the work you're doing with the BMDI Cord Blood Bank and cord research?

The fact that what we do actually saves lives right now, but that there's also this enormous potential that's still untapped in terms of what we could be doing, can be doing and understanding more about cord blood. It's making sure that we have good infrastructures so that things run smoothly, and the new uses of cord blood for immunotherapies, regenerative repair, and regenerative medicine. It's amazing to think about what we're on the cusp of and what we're moving towards with cord blood, in addition to what we're already doing.

 


About the BMDI Cord Blood Bank

The BMDI Cord Blood Bank operates as a partnership between Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Childrens Hospital and the Fight Cancer Foundation, and has released more than 500 cord blood units for unrelated bone marrow transplants for treatment of malignant and non-malignant disease. The bank is licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT).

Research undertaken in the Cord Blood Stem Cell Research Laboratory is aimed at understanding cord blood stem cell biology, improving cord blood transplant outcome and exploring the use of cord blood for regenerative therapies.