Canada has launched its first national public blood bank for umbilical cord blood. Donations are now being accepted at the Ottawa hospital, and by next year hospitals in Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver will also be able to collect cord blood donations for the public bank.

Umbilical cords are a rich source of stem cells which can be used to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma or metabolic disorders like aplastic anemia. In a CBC article, Robert Klaassen, a hematologist/oncologist at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, said the new cord blood bank is "long overdue." Having our own national cord blood bank will shorten wait times for people waiting for medical treatment Klaassen said, and increase the pool of potential matches when stem cells are needed, while cord blood will also provide a more flexible source of stem cells than bone marrow.

Private cord blood banks have been operating in Canada for a number of years, but the odds your baby may need their own cord blood is very small. A public cord blood back is an important step towards the treatment and potential cure of a number of diseases, for all Canadians.

Read our cord blood section on the pros and cons of private cord blood banking.