Canadians are now able to donate umbilical cords to a national public cord blood bank instead of discarding them after the birth of a child, according to Canadian Blood Services. The first donation site is in Ottawa, but additional donation sites will open in three other cities (Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver) by next year. The cord blood will be made available to patients nationwide who need stem cells for medical procedures, such as bone marrow (stem cell) transplants following treatment for leukemia.
Canada has several other public and private cord blood banks, but this is the first one of a national scale. The new national bank will increase the likelihood that needy patients who are not able to locate a suitable donor among their relatives or friends will ultimately be able to find a match in a unit of cord blood from an unrelated donor. Currently, only about 30% of patients needing a stem cell transplant find donors within their own families.
Canada is the last of the G8 nations (U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia) to establish a national umbilical cord blood banking system. Officials hope that the presence of a national bank will increase awareness about the value of stem cells derived from cord blood in treating diseases, leading to an increase in donations. Currently, nearly a thousand Canadians are waiting for stem cell transplants.