Public cord blood bank launched in Ottawa

1,000 Canadians are currently waiting for life-saving stem cell transplants to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma or aplastic anemia. Now Canada, the only G8 nation previously without a public banking system in place, has finally opened the doors of its first public cord blood banking facility in Ottawa, Ontario through Canadian Blood Services. This public bank will increase accessibility of valuable stem cells and potential regenerative therapies for Canadians.

With more options available to them, Canadians can and should feel empowered to make the right choice for their families.

Public cord blood bank launched in Ottawa

Cord Blood is the blood remaining in the placenta and umbilical cord typically discarded after a baby is delivered. This blood is a rich source of stem cells that are the building blocks of the blood and immune systems. With their regenerative capabilities, these stem cells could replace critical cells in tissues all over the body that have been destroyed or damaged by disease.

The umbilical cord tissue is also rich in a different type of stem cell called mesenchymal stem cells (Peristem™). Peristem™ stem cells are the building blocks of all the structural tissues (bone, cartilage, muscle, fibre and fat) of our bodies and can be used for tissue regeneration and repair. Peristem™ stem cells are currently being investigated for use in the management of damaged heart tissue, birth defects, treatment of burns, and in the treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as MS, Juvenile Diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

It’s important for all Canadians to educate themselves about the cord blood banking options available, and the potential for using stem cells to aid in the treatment of a vast array of diseases, but perhaps no one should look more closely at these options than parents-to-be. With the opening of a public bank, now, parents have a choice between donating their cord blood or keeping it for their families, but they need to understand the key differences between the family and public banking process.

Family or private banking provides parents with the opportunity to access their banked cells for future use without losing custodial rights to them. In the family banking model, parents pay to process and store their child’s precious stem cells as a form of biological insurance – it’s a real investment in the child’s health, and can be related to saving for their education or other life cycle events.

The other option, donating to a public bank, means that custodial rights to the cord blood samples are waived. The cells may be used for anyone in the world that ends up being a match. Donation is available in selected hospitals and is free of charge but retrieving donated cells for personal use from a public bank can cost individuals an excess of $30,000. In addition, note that about 50-75% of samples that are donated to a public bank are not guaranteed to be banked due to strict criteria put forth by public banks regarding donors and their samples. So if donating samples, individuals must accept that their samples may be discarded regardless of their intentions.

Whether choosing to bank publicly or with a family bank, having more options available to Canadians means that there is more hope for research and future successful medical breakthroughs in these areas.