Ministers of Health announce Canada’s first national, publicly-funded umbilical cord blood bank

$48 million investment will save lives

EMBARGOED UNTIL 9:00 AM EDT Monday, March 14, 2011

March 14, 2011 (OTTAWA) – Provincial and territorial ministries of health (except Québec) announced today a combined investment of $48 million over the next eight years, including $12.5 million in fundraising, to create a national public umbilical cord blood bank that will provide Canadian patients with greater access to cord blood units. This is a significant investment in a much needed national healthcare resource.

“We have long recognized the need for our own publicly-funded umbilical cord blood bank,” says Nova Scotia Minister of Health and Wellness Maureen MacDonald, on behalf of the provinces and territories. “This represents a substantial public investment today in life-saving treatments that will benefit Canadian patients and the country’s healthcare system for the long term.”

A national public solution is especially important for Canadian patients because of the country’s ethnically diverse population. About 70 per cent of patients who require a stem cell transplant must look outside of their families for a match and have the best chance of finding it within their own ethnic group. A national, public umbilical cord blood bank will improve the chance of finding high-quality cord blood for Canadian patients.

The cord blood bank will be developed and managed by Canadian Blood Services, on behalf of the provinces and territories except Québec, which runs its own cord blood banking program through Héma-Québec. Canadian Blood Services was chosen to manage this project because of in-house expertise developed by its OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network and the organization’s existing national presence and success as a trusted healthcare partner.

“Currently, more than 800 Canadian patients are in need of a blood stem cell transplant to help them combat life threatening diseases such as aplastic anaemia, leukemia, and other blood related and immune disorders,” says Dr. Graham Sher, CEO Canadian Blood Services. “Umbilical cord blood is a high-quality source of stem cells and a national bank will create a long-term supply that will help reduce Canada’s dependency on internationally sourced units.”

This comprehensive national model will be implemented over eight years in order to achieve a target inventory of 20,000 cord blood units and will include two accredited cord blood stem cell labs and a collections network across Canada (except Québec).

This approval also includes a significant public fundraising campaign to be implemented by Canadian Blood Services over the next three years to raise $12.5 million of the investment. This campaign will begin immediately and will build on national support for a public cord blood bank.

Phase 1 of this project will take place in Ottawa over the next two years, and will be operational by April 1, 2013. It will develop and implement procedures required to achieve a national public umbilical cord blood bank. In addition, a cord blood stem cell laboratory will be established at Canadian Blood Services’ facilities in Ottawa.

Parents in many Canadian communities will then have the opportunity to donate their children’s umbilical cords anonymously to a public umbilical cord blood bank, making their donations available for any patient in need.

Phase 2 will see the project expand nationally, in addition to Ottawa, to have collections of cord blood in Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton hospitals along with a second lab in Edmonton by 2014.

Cord blood has the advantage of producing less graft-versus-host disease in patients and more possible matching and improving the chances of finding matches for patients from ethnic minorities, patients who need a transplant immediately, or those patients with rare or unique HLA typing who cannot find a perfect match.

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