Héma-Québec announces the official launch of Québec's Public Cord Blood Bank

Montréal, June 17, 2004 — Following a trial period that ended on April 29, 2004, in partnership with the CHU mère-enfant Sainte-Justine and St Mary's Hospital Centre,

Héma-Québec is proud to announce the offical launch of the Public Cord Blood Bank program in Québec. This program aims to make hematopoietic stem cells from cord blood a collective resource, and provide an optimal-quality supply to meet the needs of patients waiting for a stem cell transplant. This Bank, managed by Héma-Québec, will be the only Public Cord Blood Bank in Québec. It is the second public bank of this type in Canada; there are approximately 40 public cord blood banks worldwide.

Commencing today, pregnant women who are planning to give birth at St. Mary's Hospital Centre or the CHU mère-enfant Sainte-Justine may officially register for the Bank, while umbilical cords will only be collected in the two centres as of July 20, 2004. According to needs and state of the Bank, Héma-Québec could associate itself with other hospitals to develop partnerships.

" Héma-Québec, with this bank, wishes to contribute more to offering services that take into account the needs of cultural communities within Québec. Improved worldwide access to a greater range of products shall also result from this," stated Dr. Francine Décary, President and Chief Executive Officer of Héma-Québec.

" We are proud of the unique nature of our bank. First of all, it will include diversified samples reflecting Québec's ethnic multiplicity, which will make it easier to find the cells required in situations where the patient belongs to a cultural community. Moreover, the cord blood samples will be taken in utero, which will facilitate the procedure. We will also use a leading-edge technology allowing for the separation of the hematopoietic stem cells from the other cord blood components in a single operation," added Dr. Décary.

Héma-Québec's objective is to establish a bank of 5,000 bags of cord blood within five years. In order to do this, approximately 4,000 umbilical cords must be collected annually. The Bank will eventually be linked to the international registry.

The cord blood collected at our partner hospitals with the authorization of the mothers will be treated and tested at Héma-Québec where we will check its safety and quality. If the cord blood sample perfectly meets standards, Héma-Québec will freeze it in accordance with techniques that allow for preserving its hematopoietic-reconstitution properties. The cord blood will then become available to a candidate for a transplant of hematopoietic stem cells. The cord blood has a lifespan of at least ten years when frozen. The samples that do not qualify for the Bank will be stored at theCHU mère-enfant Sainte-Justine for research purposes if the mothers involved give their consent.

The Public Cord Blood Bank will provide access to a source of hematopoietic stem cells other than bone marrow. Cord blood is rich in these cells that produce the human body's blood cells, and it is an advantageous therapeutic option for individuals weighing less than 50 kg who need a bone marrow transplant. Compared to bone marrow, cord blood allows for rapid access to product, from identification to transplantation, given that it has already been collected and processed. The Public Cord Blood Bank is, therefore, a complement to the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

Cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord once it has been severed, after the birth of the child. This type of collection, which is less invasive than bone marrow collection, poses no danger to either the mother or child. If it is not collected, it is discarded as biomedical waste, as is the placenta.

Since 1996, some 60 transplants of cord blood from the international registry have been performed in Québec. To date, approximately 4,000 cord blood transplants have been performed around the world.

Pregnant women who are planning to give birth at either of the two hospital centers can register with the Public Cord Blood Bank by calling (514) 832-5000, ext. 253, or sending an e-mail to sangdecordon@hema-quebec.qc.ca.

Héma-Québec's mission is to efficiently provide adequate quantities of safe, optimal blood components, substitutes and human tissues to meet the needs of all Quebeckers; and to provide and develop expertise and services, along with specialized and innovative products, in the fields of transfusion medicine and human tissue transplantation.


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