Yesterday the Ministers of Health for the Provinces and Territories of Canada announced an investment of CAD $48M over eight years to establish a national umbilical cord blood bank for Canada. This is a very welcome, and some might say, overdue investment for which many organisations in the stem cell field have been advocating for some time.
Blood and marrow (stem cell) transplantation is an important tool in the treatment of some leukemias, disorders of the blood making system (aplastic anemia, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia) and is now being piloted for the treatment of some immune and metabolic disorders such as Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. This process relies on the ability to identify a donor who has an identical or near identical immune system. While a brother/sister has a one in four chance of being a match, most Canadians do not have a suitable family donor due to small family size, and currently there are around 800 patients waiting for a transplant according to Canada’s unrelated bone marrow donor registry (OneMatch.ca).
Umbilical cord Blood is a rich source of stem cells and can be used as an alternative to adult bone marrow or blood. However, in the absence of a public cord blood bank, Canada has had to import all of the cord blood used in the treatment of these diseases, at an average cost of CAD $37,000 per cord according to Canadian Blood Services. Last year 96 such transplants were performed in Canada. However, many more potential patients were left untreated because they were unable to find a match. The multicultural melting pot in which we all live and take pride in as Canadians also means Canada is one of the most genetically diverse countries in the world, and as a consequence immune matches can be difficult to find. For example, Canada’s indigenous Métis peoples are not represented in the cord blood banks of other nations. It is on these groups that Canada’s newly funded Cord Blood Bank will focus, in order to ensure that these potentially life saving therapies are available to all Canadians, regardless of their heritage.
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