by Lynn Rees Lambert
In the heat of the moment, it will barely register for new parents. But for someone out there, someone who has been waiting for a life-saving match, this new arrival will do more than register—it will offer hope for a cure or a longer life. After a trial run that began in 2012, Canada’s first national public umbilical cord blood bank was officially launched this fall at the General and Civic campuses of The Ottawa Hospital. The voluntary program collects umbilical cord blood under the auspices of Canadian Blood Services (CBS) through the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.
Only problem? There aren’t enough matches. According to CBS, about 50 per cent of those who need an unrelated blood stem cell transplant are unable to find one. This cord blood bank aims to provide more matches for more people and expectant moms in Ottawa can help make that happen.
Cord blood stem cell transplants are used in the treatment of over 50 blood-related diseases and disorders, such as leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At any given time, the OneMatch Network is searching on behalf of about 1,000 Canadian and international patients. The unique and amazing advantage of cord blood is that it doesn’t have to be a perfect match when it comes to stem cell transplants.
Here’s how it works. Pregnant, healthy women over age 18 may donate their baby’s cord blood through signed consent. Blood is collected from the umbilical cord/placenta after the baby is born. Janet Sample, clinical manager at the birthing unit at the General, says, “The feedback I’ve heard is that patients who are appropriate candidates and who are not aware of the program when they arrive are very willing to participate. It is rare that a family vocalizes any concerns about OneMatch; they primarily see it as a very positive opportunity.”
The process is fairly simple, explains Heidi Elmoazzen, director of the National Public Cord Blood Bank. “The cord blood is collected in one of two ways. First, by in-utero collection, in which a hospital physician or licensed midwife collects the cord blood after the baby is delivered, but before the placenta is delivered. The second way is through exutero collection where designated Canadian Blood Services personnel collect the cord blood after the baby and placenta are delivered.”
Either way, it’s painless for both mom and baby. Donated cord blood and the mother’s blood are tested for cytomegalovirus and for hemoglobin abnormalities such as sickle cell disease. Once the all-clear is determined, stem cells are frozen, permitting a long shelf life.
Response during the trial run that began last July has been excellent, with over 800 women consenting to the procedure. When the program is fully rolled out, officials anticipate that more cord blood means more matches, especially for a diverse group, including aboriginal and multi-ethnic populations. For details, contact your health-care provider or visit www.ottawahospital.on.ca or www.blood.ca/cordblood.