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Professor Ngaire Elwood AM, Beating the Odds - Women of Honour Series

Women on Boards - Leaders and Directors in Conversation

Release Date: 04/22/2024

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Associate Professor Ngaire Elwood AM is driven by a strong sense of purpose that grew out of a life-changing experience that inspired her, as an inquisitive science-loving teenager, to dedicate her life to improving therapies for kids with cancer. 

As a teenager, she was treated for osteosarcoma, a common form of bone cancer that had a survival rate of about five per cent prior to the advent of chemotherapy.

After her bone cancer diagnosis, her treatment involved an above-knee amputation, followed by 18 months of high-dose chemotherapy. Even with this ‘aggressive therapy’ the survival rate is about 60 per cent.

Now she is helping others survive cancer as head of the Cord Blood Stem Cell Research Program at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and director of Melbourne’s cord blood bank.

She has devoted her career to investigating, developing and providing improved therapies for the treatment of cancer, leukaemia and other disorders and is passionate about the therapeutic application of cellular therapies. 

Her research includes exploring the different types of stem cells that are in cord blood, investigating the use of cord blood in heart repair and the treatment of cerebral palsy, and improving the use of cord blood in bone marrow transplants for treating blood cancers and other diseases.

Ngaire was made a Member of the Order of Australia AM in the 2024 Australia Day Honours awards for significant service to medicine, particularly through stem cell research - an honour she tells Claire Braund was a “bit surreal” and that it is important as a female researcher and amputee to use the platform as a voice for women in STEMM, people living with disabilities and also to raise the awareness of cord blood therapies in Australia. 

In this podcast Ngaire also talks about the development of cord blood research around the world and in Australia - “it's a really exciting time… there’s so much we don't yet know and understand about cord blood biology and its benefits and ind it’s really fun to find out” -  as well as her board career and what skills and qualities medical scientists can bring to the board table, including strategic thinking, grant-writing, risk management and big picture thinking.

“It's knowing that the work you do makes a difference and can make a difference no matter how small the role may be. Whether it's as a research assistant, student or a board member. Everybody plays a role and can make a difference,” she tells Claire.

About Ngaire Elwood:

Associate Professor Ngaire Elwood AM, PhD BSc(Hons) MAICD, is an experienced senior leader. She has devoted her career to investigating, developing and providing improved therapies for the treatment of cancer, leukaemia and other disorders and is passionate about the therapeutic application of cellular therapies.

Ngaire has broad governance expertise, and holds a diverse board portfolio. She is the immediate past Vice President of the international Board of Directors for the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapies (FACT), Non-Executive Director on the Boards of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and international Cord Blood Association, and previous Chair of the Board for the Australian Sickle Cell Advocacy Inc (ASCA). She was previously the Australia New Zealand (ANZ), Regional Vice President for the International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy (ISCT) and is a member of the ISCT Board of Directors (2018-2020; 2022-2024). She is Chair of the FACT Education Committee, is a FACT Cord Blood Bank Inspector and sits on the FACT Cord Blood Accreditation Committee, FACT Cord Blood Standards Committee, FACT Regenerative Medicine Task Force and the FACT New Business Development Committee.

Ngaire serves as Chair of the AusCord network of public cord blood banks and is a member of the TGA Advisory Committee on Biologicals. As Director of the BMDI Cord Blood Bank, a TGA-licensed manufacturing facility, Ngaire has extensive expertise in GMP, regulatory compliance and quality management. She sits on the MCRI Institutional Biosafety Committee for Genetically Modified Organisms and has broad experience in human research ethics, previously serving as a member of the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry National Ethics Committee. With a scientific research career spanning more than 30 years she has made significant impact in the field of cellular therapy, cancer, cord blood, stem cells and leukaemia. Ngaire was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in the category of "Change Agent" in October 2022. She was made a Member of the Order of Australia AM in the 2024 Australia Day Honours awards for significant service to medicine, particularly through stem cell research.

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