February 23, 2021

100th donor recruited to NCHER Reproductive Health Biobank

The Northern Centre for Health Education & Research (NCHER) Reproductive Health Biobank celebrated a major milestone this month, with the 100th donor recruited to this flagship research project in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

“We have been so encouraged by the overwhelming support from our community for this project,” said co-director of the Biobank, Associate Professor Lisa Hui.

“Over 80 per cent of pregnant women that we approach to donate their blood or placental samples have been happy to contribute, which is a fantastic recruitment rate.”

“The successful launch of our Biobank is due in large part to our wonderful research midwife, Eleanor Johnson, who explains the project to pregnant women at Northern Health and invites them to participate. Even though we had to stop recruitment during most of 2020 due to the pandemic restrictions, we have reached our 100th recruit in just over one year,” says Lisa.

Lisa explains that many serious complications of pregnancy have their origins in abnormal placental development.

“Our patients are very keen to help us make inroads into understanding conditions such as pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction,” she said.

University of Melbourne PhD student, Natasha de Alwis, has already used samples from the Biobank to make a novel discovery about the role of a gene (DAAM2) in placental dysfunction. Her work has just been accepted for publication in the prestigious journal, Scientific Reports. Natasha, who is supervised by co-director of the Biobank, Associate Professor Natalie Hannan, also won the 2020 Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Faculty Early Career Research Award.

PhD student Natasha de Alwis and research midwife Eleanor Johnson.

“The Biobank has been a really important resource for me to conduct my PhD research. Having these valuable samples collected and stored with state-of-the art methods means that I can quickly answer important questions that arise during my work,” says Natasha.

The Biobank team expressed their gratitude to maternity services, the caesarean midwives, the Broadmeadows Hospital Family Planning Clinic team, Broadmeadows Hospital and Northern Hospital theatre staff and Northern Pathology Victoria.

Says Eleanor, “Without their assistance and support of the Biobank, this achievement would not have been possible.”

Medical student Benjamin Pearce cultures placental explants for this research into anti-clotting medications during pregnancy.

More exciting collaborations are planned for 2021, including research into the impact of pregnancy hormones on women’s immune function with NHMRC early career fellow Dr Boris Novakovic from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

The NCHER Biobank is funded by Northern Health and the University of Melbourne, with additional grant funding from the Melbourne Academic Centre for Health, Northern Health Foundation and philanthropic funding.

Featured image shows research midwife Eleanor Johnson