Public umbilical cord bank opens in Ottawa

Sep 30, 2013 | Biz/Tech

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via russiavia

The new umbilical cord blood bank is the first of its kind in Canada.  SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via russiavia

By Raquelle Collins

Canada’s first-ever public blood bank for umbilical cord blood is taking donations Monday at an Ottawa hospital.

The $48 million project is developed and managed by Canadian Blood Services and will expand nationally to  Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton hospitals.

Canada is the only G8 country that did not offer public umbilical cord banks until Monday.

Liat Ben-Senior, business manager at CReATe Cord Blood Bank said the public umbilical cord bank is great news for Canadians.

“Parents have more choices now. They do have the option to keep it or discard it but now they can donate it to help save someone’s life,” said Ben-Senior, whose privately run firm is based in Toronto.

At any given time there are about 1,000 Canadians waiting for a stem cell match, she said.

Robyn McCulloch, marketing manager at the privately run Cells for Life Cord Blood Institute Inc., encourages parents to not discard their infant’s umbilical cord as medical waste.

“Our message to parents is, umbilical cord blood stem cells are too precious to waste, so parents should make the option to save or donate their babies cord blood,” said McCulloch, whose company is based in Mississauga. Ont.

The new public bank will let the public donate umbilical cords instead of discarding them.

High demand for stem cells

Umbilical cords are a source of stem cells which are in high demand for Canadian patients  waiting for life-saving stem cell transplants to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma or aplastic anemia.

“The difference between public and private banks is that private banks allow families to store the stem cells for their own use in the future or for their children. With public banks anyone can access the stem cells and it will go to anyone in need,” Ben-Senior told Humber News.

Tracy Cassels, creator of the Evolutionary Parenting blog, said that the creation of public banks is a step forward for the future of medicine and that funding was a factor of why it took so long to come to Canada.

“I know this bank was a long time in the works and funding was one of the largest obstacles.  I would say that’s probably the reason it took so long,” Cassels told Humber News.

“This represents a substantial public investment today in life-saving treatments that will benefit Canadian patients and the country’s healthcare system for the long term,” said Nova Scotia Minister of Health and Wellness Maureen MacDonald in a statement.

In 1988, the first stem-cell transplant was performed to treat aplastic anemia, a blood disorder in which the body’s bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells. Since then, there have been over 30,000 successful stem cell transplants that can treat over 80 diseases.