Oct 2013
Klaassen CBC Screen Capture

Cord blood: Now Canada can bank on it

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Bad news, they say, travels fast. But the announcement this week that Canada now has a national public cord blood bank up and running (or, more appropriately, taking its first baby steps) shows that good news is no slowpoke.

Mothers delivering at two Ottawa Hospital campuses now have the option of depositing their babies’ umbilical cord blood into the National Public Cord Blood Bank. It can then be withdrawn to save the lives of some of the 1,000 Canadians who, at any given time, need an unrelated stem cell match to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia and TaySachs.

Dr. Robert Klaassen, left, a hematologist/oncologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, explained to CBC News that having a national cord blood bank will shorten wait times and increase the pool of potential matches: “The main problem we have is that many patients, when they need a bone marrow transplant, don’t have a sibling to match to so we have to start looking for unrelated matches.”

Canada, the country where stem cells were discovered, has been slow off the mark with this. Postmedia newspapers pointed out that until this week ours was the only G8 country without a national cord blood bank.

While there currently are three other regional cord blood banks, (Héma-Québec, Alberta and Victoria Angel) and several private operations, Canadian patients needing stem cell transplants often have had to be treated with supplies purchased from other countries – at a cost to the health care system of about $42,000 per unit.

According to Canadian Blood Services (CBS), which manages the national bank, a Made In Canada cord blood unit will be substantially less than half that amount.

CBS will roll out three more collections sites in Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver by mid-2014 and expects to collect 18,000 donated cord blood units over the next six years. Those cities were selected because of their high birth rates and diverse ethnic populations, which will boost the range of possible matches.

As Sue Smith, CBS Executive Director of Stem Cells, told CTV News, “It’s very easy; any woman over the age of 18, as long as they have had a healthy birth and it’s beyond 34 weeks gestation, [can donate].”

The National Cord Blood Bank is a $48-million enterprise with provincial and territorial ministries of health (except Québec) investing the lion’s share while CBS leads a $12.5-million fundraising campaign for the rest. As of this week they have raised more than half that amount.

So, more lives will be saved and significant cost savings realized. If that’s not good news, what is?

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