Expectant mother's giving birth at  the civic and general campuses of the Ottawa hospital can now donate their newborn's umbilical cord . Canadian Blood Services is now harvesting and storing stem cells from umbilical cords at a lab in Ottawa. It’s the start of a national cord blood bank.

Stem cell are the body's basic building blocks, they can become any type of cell in the body. Stem cells from the umbilical cord work best for 'hard to match' patients. “The better the match the better the baby will do, Transplants are very risky things,“ says Dr Robert Klaassen, a hematologist/oncologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “There’s a 1 in 2 chance a child will die after transplant, so everything we do to bring risk down is so important.”

The cord blood bank needs ethnically diverse donors to help match the ‘hard to patient’ patients. “The challenge in Canada is that we are ethnically diverse. Alot of mixed marriages so we have faced a lot of challenges finding stem cell matches because we are so diverse,” says Dr Heidi Elmoazzen, the head of the National cord blood bank.

Until now cord blood was imported at a cost of 42, 000 dollars a unit and the umbilical cords from Canadian babies was considered to be medical waste. “The key thing is to make sure mothers understand is that this stuff is just going in the garbage and it's valuable cells being throw out, “ says Dr Klaassen. “So we want to use those valuable cells.”

With $6.3M in charitable donations so far, once completed, the National Public Cord Blood Bank, together with the help of Canadians through Canadian Blood Services’ $12.5M fundraising campaign “For All Canadians”, is positioned to reach an approximate target of 18,000 donated cord blood units over six years. Ottawa represents the first of four collection cities and one of two Canadian Blood Services manufacturing and storage facilities contained within the original east-to-west funding agreement with provincial and territorial ministers of health. On March 14, 2011, provincial and territorial ministries of health (except Québec) announced a combined investment of $48 million, including $12.5 million in fundraising, to create a national public umbilical cord blood bank.