September 30th saw the opening of Canada’s first national cord blood bank and the first donations of umbilical cord blood, a rich source of stem cells.
This is good news. These cord blood stem cells are not embryonic stem cells hence do not pose an ethical or moral problem. Embryonic stem cells however require the destruction of a human life at the embryonic stage.
As Elizabeth Payne reported in her October 1st Ottawa Citizen article “Cord blood bank opens with first donations,” the collection of cord blood donations began at the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic and General campuses.
Dr. Heidi Elmoazzen, director of the National Public Cord Blood Bank, explained that doctors of patients needing a stem-cell transplant can access international cord blood banks at a cost of $42 000 per unit; however, owing to Canada’s ethnic diversity, a close match for patients can’t be found in many cases. In fact, half of the 1 000 patients awaiting stem-cell transplants can’t find a match. Having a national cord blood bank will ensure Canada’s ethnic diversity is reflected and help more patients find matches.
The goal is to have 18 000 units of cord blood available in Ottawa and Edmonton, where the second phase will be opened. By the middle of 2014, umbilical cord blood will also be collected in Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver. Dr. Elmoazzen noted these cities were chosen along with Ottawa because of their ethnic diversity and high birthrates.
Although private cord blood banks (where parents save their infants’ cord blood for their own possible use) already existed, Canada was one of the few G20 countries with no national public cord blood bank.
Canadian Blood Services will run the bank for the provinces and territories except Quebec, where Héma-Québec runs the provincial bank.
Dr. Elmoazzen said that more people would have access to stem cells to treat leukemia and lymphoma, among other diseases. Stem cells are more easily matched and these treatments result in fewer side effects than other options, such as bone marrow transplants.
In her October 16th Canadian Medical Association Journal article “National cord blood bank opens first sites in Ottawa,” Laura Eggertson reported that the bank had collected 40 units of cord blood within a week of its opening. Dr. Elmoazzen expected the bank to meet its goal of collecting 18 000 units in six years.
To inform expectant mothers about the donation process, more than 10 000 information booklets on cord blood donation have been sent by Canadian Blood Services to Ottawa physicians and midwives.
Umbilical cord blood can be donated as long as the mother is healthy, delivers at 34 weeks into her pregnancy or later, and gives birth to a single child.