Cord blood from Canada’s new national public cord blood bank will help save more lives

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If it were not for a cord blood stem cell transplant, Nate would not be aliveAfter Amy and Mike Lupton’s son, Nate, was born on April 7, 2010, he was diagnosed with Wiskott Aldrich Syndrome, a rare immune deficiency that affects one in 250,000 live male births. The disease impacts the body’s ability to produce platelets and fight infection. The only cure lies in a bone marrow transplant, meaning Nate needed to find a stem cell donor through the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. Soon a match was found and at 8 months old, Nate received his cord blood transplant at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital.

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 donor. Approximately 50 per cent of patients who need an unrelated blood stem cell transplant are unable to find a suitable match. Canadian Blood Services is building a national public cord blood bank that will be dedicated to the unique needs of Canadian patients and will provide additional opportunities for finding a match.

Demand for stem cells in Canada is growing at a staggering rate. The number of Canadian patients waiting for life-saving stem cell transplants has tripled over the past five years and continues to grow. In March 2011, the provincial and territorial ministers of health (outside of Québec) approved the total estimated cost of $48 million to establish and operate a national public cord blood bank with the goal of obtaining 20,000 ethnically diverse cord blood donations over eight years. Canadian Blood Services committed to raise $12.5 million through a three-year fundraising campaign, “For All Canadians”, to help cover the $48 million cost.

Canadian Blood Services 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. Approximately 70 per cent of Canadian patients requiring a stem cell transplant must look outside of their immediate families for a match.  Canada has a greater need than most other nations for a national public cord blood bank. The unique diversity composition of Canada has presented a large gap in our ability to find matches for patients, even with the ability to access over 19 million potential adult donors and over 500,000 public cord blood units worldwide.

Dr. Donna Johnstone, paediatric haematologist-oncologist at CHEO, states that “the cord blood banks that exist right now, where we find matches, are not really ethnically diverse. By creating a national public cord blood bank, patients not represented will potentially have more donors available to them.” There is a pressing need for these patients to have better access to stem cell treatments. According to Johnstone, “patients who need a transplant need a transplant to save their life.”

Cord blood stem cells are used for stem cell transplantation. “It’s a wide array of people that can be cured with a stem cell transplant” explains Johnstone. “That can be people with malignancies such as leukemia or lymphoma. But it can be used for other things as well, such as for people with metabolic disorders or people with inherited haemoglobin disorders like Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemia”.

If it were not for a stem cell transplant, Nate Lupton would not be able to smile a triumphant smile as he learns to swim, blow kisses to his parents before bed, or race his two older brothers and golden retriever, Fran. If it were not for a stem cell transplant, Nate would not be alive.  “Cord blood has given my son a chance at a normal life and to experience all things great in life” says Amy Lupton, Nate’s mother. “As a mother, I appeal to other mothers to donate cord blood and save lives like my son Nate’s.”

Canadian Blood Services National Public Cord Blood Bank will consist of collection hospitals in Ottawa, Brampton (GTA), Edmonton and Vancouver. Collections will begin in Ottawa in September 2013 and in Edmonton, Brampton (GTA) and Vancouver in 2014. For more information, visit www.blood.ca/cordblood.