Building an optimal stem cell network in Canada

Each year thousands of Canadians are diagnosed with blood cancers, inherit immune system and metabolic disorders, and blood diseases such as Sickle-Cell and Thalassemia. Many of these same patients may require a stem cell transplant to survive and yet only 30 per cent will find their compatible stem cell donor from an immediate family member. This means that 70 per cent of patients will have to rely on the generosity of a volunteer stem cell donor to survive their illness.  When this happens, patients and their doctors will depend on Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network to search both national and international stem cell databases for their match.

With over 950 patients currently being searched by OneMatch, and over 317,000 Canadian registrants on the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, there continues to be a significant gap to accurately reflect the changing face of Canada with 76 per cent representing Caucasian and 24 per cent multi-ethnic.

This gap in finding ethnically-diverse matches for ethnically-diverse patients is a significant challenge confirms Canadian Blood Services’ Stem Cells Executive Director, Sue Smith. “The genetic markers used to match donors to patients occur with different frequencies in different ethnic groups.  The best chance of finding a match comes from within a patient’s own ethnic group. In order to better meet the needs of patients, the OneMatch registry must reflect the ethnic composition of the Canadian population.  This is all part of our concentrated effort to build an optimal stem cell network for patients.”

Another key responsibility OneMatch is building leadership within the international stem cell community by providing an ‘optimal’ donor for patients and their physicians.  “As a member of World Marrow Donor Association, our obligation remains to provide both Canadian transplant centres and international registries the best donor available – or, ‘optimal donor’ – for their patients.  The international transplant community has defined an ‘optimal donor’ as young – between the age of 17 and 35 male, and ethnically diverse,” confirms Sue.

This need is bolstered by the fact that many clinicians are finding that younger stem cells from male donors routinely offer patients a better outcome by reducing post-transplant complications such as graft vs. host disease and the reconstitution of the immune system.  “A recruitment strategy defined by a focus on young, ethnically diverse male donors will allow the Network to change the composition of the donor base to better reflect the needs of patients in Canada and around the world.”

The cornerstone to building an optimal stem cell network is the establishment of Canada’s first national public umbilical cord blood bank – Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Public Cord Blood Bank.  Starting in the Ottawa area in April 2013, parents will be able to voluntarily donate their babies’ cord blood.  The OneMatch Public Cord Blood Bank will benefit Canadian patients and the country’s health care system, as it will provide those in need of stem cells with an increased opportunity for transplant.  “This is especially important for Aboriginal and Black patients who routinely have difficult searches due to complex alles and haplotypes, informs Sue.  “Equally important is the fact that the public cord bank will decrease our reliance on international sources while creating more transplant opportunities for Canadian patients with a cord blood bank that is reflective of Canada’s ethnic diversity.”  The Ottawa site will be followed by Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver by the fall of 2014.

Building an optimal Network cannot be done alone implores Sue, “Creating an optimal donor registry for patients requires the generosity and commitment of all Canadians.  As OneMatch continues this journey to building a world-class stem cell network, the participation of our hospital customers is pivotal towards providing better transplant outcomes for all patients”.
For more information or to register as a potential stem cell donor please go to