Dr Robyn Rodwell talks Queensland Cord Blood Bank
Dr Robyn Rodwell – A Past Recipient of the Lions Medical Research Fellowship Grant
- Director/Scientific Director Queensland Cord Blood Bank at The Mater,
- Chair of AusCord the National Cord Blood Collection and Banking Network
- Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Natural Sciences, Griffith University
- Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Queensland University of Technology
The Lions Medical Research Fellowship and the Lions Clubs of Queensland and Northern New South Wales provided financial support and played a critical role in the formative and development stages of the Queensland Cord Blood Bank at The Mater (QCBB). The Fellowship allowed the introduction of this innovative technology, leading to transition funding and a major corporate grant by Ronald McDonald House Charities, with the Government funding the program from 2001. Dr Robyn Rodwell said she finds an ongoing source of inspiration through her links with the Lions Medical Research Foundation and individual Lions Clubs, particularly the Holland Park Lions Club where she is an honorary member.
Cord blood banking is the ultimate form of medical recycling, which provides life-saving therapy for patients around the world with diseases such as leukaemia, immune deficiency disorders, bone marrow failure syndromes and certain other malignant and genetic disorders. Blood from the umbilical cord and placenta, which was previously discarded, is collected from consenting mothers, processed, cryopreserved and stored, to form a bank of cord blood units. The bank was formed to meet the demand for patients requiring a stem cell transplant, who do not have a suitable bone marrow donor.
QCBB is one of the three government-funded public banks in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, collectively known as AusCord. As of 30 June 2017, AusCord had 35,000 units of this valuable natural resource stored and 1,400 units had been released for transplantation. Robyn said for many patients, a cord blood transplant is the last option for cure of their disease. The survival rate at three years for patient transplanted with AusCord cord blood units ranges from 50 per cent to 62 per cent across the three banks.
Dr Kerry Taylor, former Director of Haematology at Mater Pathology, had the vision for a cord blood bank at Mater. As one of the largest obstetric hospitals in Australia, Dr Taylor believed Mater had the medical and laboratory expertise and asked Dr Robyn Rodwell to establish QCBB.
Funding of the project was led by Mater Foundation. Seeding grants were obtained from the Leukaemia Foundation of Queensland, the Lions Medical Research Fellowship and a Jupiter’s Casino Community Benefit Fund Grant to support the Lion’s contribution and from other community groups. Many members of the Holland Park Lions Club became local champions of the project, with Robyn speaking at Lions’ Club functions and conferences.
Development of QCBB as a research project involved establishing and validating the collection, processing, cryopreservation, testing methods and electronic records systems, developing the Quality Management System and gaining licensure with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). QCBB subsequently gained accreditation by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT) and the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) to allow distribution of cord blood across international boundaries to transplant centres.
QCBB has now grown to a multidisciplinary team of 20 members, including medical officers, scientists, midwives and nurses. Robyn paid tribute to QCBB’s management team including the Medical Director Dr Clare Morgan, the Production Manager Phillip Johnson and the Quality Manager Jim Ramsay.
Robyn is currently chair of AusCord. She is on the FACT International Standards Development Committee and the FACT Education Committee and has gained valuable experience inspecting cord blood banks around the world. In addition to her positions at Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology, Robyn has completed a dual Master of Science in Good Manufacturing Practice and Quality Management to enhance her knowledge in regulatory aspects of cord blood manufacture. Robyn regularly speaks at international conferences. She has 43 publications and more than 200 abstract presentations.
Robyn said she felt privileged and honoured to receive The Lions Medical Research Fellowship which has had a major impact on her career and the development of QCBB. She has received a number of awards for her work including National Executive Woman of the Year Award for Medicine/Science, Women’s Network of Australia (1997), Queensland Branch Merit Award of the Australian Institute of Medical Scientists (1999), State Finalist Queensland TELSTRA Business Women’s’ Awards (2003) and a Queensland Great Award by Queensland Premier’s Department (2009). In 1999, she was made an honorary member of Lions Club International, Holland Park, and was awarded a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.
Robyn is also Project Manager for a national government-funded project to align the operations of the three public banks across Australia. The project is nearing completion with the major milestones having been achieved. She cites this as a career highlight. This work will provide a model for other countries wishing to standardise practice nationally.
Queensland Cord Blood Bank at The Mater is testament to the extraordinary power of community groups in shaping the future and developing life-saving therapies for patients world-wide.