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More information on how it works

Benefit for Canadians

The National Public Cord Blood Bank will benefit Canadian patients and the country’s health care system by providing those in need of stem cells with increased opportunity for transplant and reducing Canada’s current 100 per cent reliance on internationally sourced cord blood stem cell donations.

Additionally, a national public cord blood bank is especially important for Canadian patients because of our country’s ethnically diverse population. Approximately 70 per cent of Canadian patients requiring a stem cell transplant must look outside of their immediate families for a match. Canada’s ethnic population is under-represented on the national OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network . There is a pressing need for these patients to have better access to stem cell treatments.

Standards, Accreditation & Affiliations

To ensure the safety and efficacy of the cord blood product for therapeutic use, the National Public Cord Blood Bank must comply with Health Canada regulations.

The National Public Cord Blood Bank must adhere to Health Canada’s Cells, Tissues, and Organs (CTO) Regulations and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards. The national public cord blood bank will also be added under the existing World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) accreditation granted to the OneMatch program.

The National Public Cord Blood Bank will also seek accreditation through the Foundation for Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT) – NetCord-FACT accreditation – and through the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).


Following the collection, the cord blood unit will be shipped to one of our manufacturing facilities in either Ottawa or Edmonton.


Once at the manufacturing facility, the donations will be received, assessed, processed, tested and cryopreserved (stored). We remove excess red blood cells and plasma using the Sepax processing system to reduce the volume of each cord blood unit. That reduced volume contains the blood-forming stem cells. We combine these cells with the preservative, dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) that protects the cells from damage during freezing.

The “cryoprotected” cells are then transferred to a specially designed freezer bag and sealed into an overwrap bag for individual quarantine in a BioArchive freezer. The BioArchive is a robotic freezer that controls and monitors the rate of freezing. The cord blood unit is cooled down to approximately -50 degrees Celsius over 25 minutes to minimize damage to the cells.

Once cooled to -50 degrees Celsius, the cord blood unit is submerged and stored in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius (-320.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

These stem cells can be banked for a long period of time and will be available for use by Canadian and international patients in need of a stem cell transplant. As for cell longevity, it is still unknown how long cord blood can be stored in liquid nitrogen, but there are examples of cord blood stem cells being transplanted after 13 years without any detected deterioration in quality. With this knowledge, and staying directly involved with the medical community, Canadian Blood Services’ national public cord blood bank is confident in providing the highest quality cord blood stem cells for many years.

The National Public Cord Blood Bank is required by law to test the mother’s blood for certain transmissible diseases including, hepatitis, syphilis, human immunodeficiency virus ("HIV”, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome-AIDS), West Nile virus and other factors to make sure the donation is as safe as possible. Any positive test results for these diseases will be reported to the mother and her physicians per Canadian Blood Services’ policy, and will also be reported to the appropriate public health authorities.

The National Public Cord Blood Bank will also test your baby’s cord blood and your blood sample for certain genetic markers, including tests for compatibility and to rule out inherited conditions.

At any given time, the OneMatch Network is searching on behalf of almost one thousand Canadian patients in need of an unrelated blood stem cell donation. Approximately 50 per cent of patients who need an unrelated blood stem cell transplant are unable to find a suitable match. A national public cord blood bank that is dedicated to the unique needs of Canadian patients will provide additional opportunities for finding a match and help save more lives.

The markers used to match a patient are inherited from both our parents. Any individual can have difficulty finding a matching donor, depending on the complexity of the HLA typing they have inherited. Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are specific proteins on white blood cells which in-turn provide Canadian Blood Services’ HLA labs a genetic ‘finger print’ that is immediately entered into Canada’s stem cell network in hopes of matching the same unique HLA of another patient. Less than 30 per cent of patients will find a match in their own family, while the remaining patients must rely on unrelated donors.

In a stem cell transplant, a patient’s diseased marrow/stem cells are replaced with healthy stem cells from a volunteer donor. In fact, you may be more familiar with the term “bone marrow transplant”. We know that the same stem cells found in bone marrow are found in our peripheral (or circulating) blood, as well as cord blood, and either source may be selected depending on a patient’s needs.

Cord blood stem cells have some unique advantages over bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells:

  • Cord blood is collected in advance, stored and ready for use immediately as needed, decreasing patient wait times for a stem cell donor search.
  • Cord blood has more lenient HLA matching requirements than bone marrow or peripheral blood.
  • Cord blood transplants can lower the risk of Graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), a common serious side effect of unrelated stem cell transplants.
  • Transplanting cord blood stem cells can reduce the risk of transmitting viral infections that can be potentially lethal for transplant recipients.

To prepare for the transplant, the patient is usually given high doses of radiation, chemotherapy, or both, to destroy the diseased bone marrow. This kills cancerous cells, but also destroys the patient’s immune system to prevent the rejection of the newly transplanted stem cells from the unrelated donor.

Once this preparation is completed, the patient must receive the donor’s stem cells in order to survive. The donation is given intravenously at room temperature to the patient.

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