Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank

Adapting traditions to help save lives

Saturday, February 01, 2020
Eno Ituen


All new babies demand flexibility of their parents, but one newborn in Ottawa inspired his mother Eno Ituen to put a twist on an important cultural tradition.

In Eno’s home country of Nigeria, generations of parents have buried the placentas of their newborns next to the seeds of trees and even tended those trees in the hope their children would thrive along with the plants.

“My placenta and that of my husband were buried when we were born,” Eno says.

But giving birth to her son in Canada in March 2019 made Eno’s decision more complex. At first, her mother-in-law proposed taking the placenta back to Nigeria for burial, but Eno hesitated at the thought of sending it across the world in a suitcase.

Perhaps more significantly, she learned about how it could be used to save a life.

Cord blood stem cells can treat many diseases

Eno delivered her baby at The Ottawa Hospital, one of four collection centres where parents can donate cord blood to Canada’s public cord blood bank. Blood from a newborn’s umbilical cord and placenta is rich with stem cells that can be used to treat more than 80 diseases and disorders.

Donations become part of Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank, where they are made available to any matched patient in Canada or abroad in need of a stem cell transplant. The cord blood bank along with the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry is an important resource for the many patients who can’t find a matching donor within their own families.

Finding a cultural balance and giving life twice

Still, Eno felt challenged to get her mother-in-law on board.

“How do you tell a Nigerian grandmom that you want to donate something that has come out of my uterus with her grandchild?” Eno wondered.

In the end, Eno and her husband swayed the child’s grandmother by explaining the lifesaving potential of those cells. A donation by this family from Africa would also help make Canada’s cord blood bank more diverse. Diversity in both the cord blood bank and stem cell registry benefits patients because the most successful stem cell matches occur between donors and patients who share the same racial and ethnic background.

“Why bury something this precious?” Eno says.

Instead, they went ahead with the donation and found another way to respect tradition.

“When our baby’s umbilical cord stump fell off days after his birth, my mother-in-law saved it. She traveled with it to Nigeria and buried it,” says Eno. Families can also ask Canadian Blood Services to return the placenta to them after the cord blood has been collected.

The process of donating was also less cumbersome than Eno had imagined.

“I was surprised at how stress-free and easy the donation was with no impact on me and my baby,” says Eno. “It felt good knowing we were donating for a good cause,” she adds, describing her decision as “giving life twice.”

Spreading the word

Since having her baby, Eno has chatted with other Nigerian moms about her donation experience.

“Some of them may think that the process is tiring,” she says. “If you keep telling them about the uses of cord blood and reminding them that the process has no direct impact on mother and child, I’m sure more moms would walk through that door.”

This Black History Month, we encourage more Canadians from diverse ethnic backgrounds to register to join our stem cell registry or donate cord blood. You and your tiny hero can save lives!


Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank delivers first unit to a Canadian hospital

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Delivery of cord blood stem cells an important milestone

(OTTAWA) – Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank has delivered a cord blood unit for the transplant of stem cells to the first Canadian patient.

“We’re so excited to be giving a Canadian patient the gift of life,” says Dr. Heidi Elmoazzen, Canadian Blood Services’ director, cord blood bank and stem cell manufacturing. “We expect this will be the first of many lifesaving transplants from our bank for Canadians yet to come.”

Rich in stem cells, cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord and placenta of volunteer donors shortly after birth. They can, in turn, be transplanted if an appropriate donor and recipient match is found. Cord blood stem cells are used for treating over 80 diseases and disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, inherited immune system and metabolic disorders, as well as sickle cell anemia.

As of today, Canadian Blood Services has collected over 11,200 cord blood units from mothers across Canada and has banked over 1,400 units which are available for searching and matching. As the cord blood bank increases its inventory, due to the generosity of mothers donating their baby’s cord blood, the number of cord blood units available for successful matching and transplantation will continue to grow.

At any given time, Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network is searching on behalf of hundreds of Canadian patients in need of an unrelated blood stem cell donor. Approximately 75 per cent of patients who need a blood stem cell transplant are unable to find a suitable match within their own family. 

“Many Canadian patients have unique stem cell matching needs reflective of Canada’s extensive ethnic diversity says Dr. Elmoazzen. “The goal of Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank is to create more transplant opportunities for Canadian patients with a cord blood bank that is reflective of the unique diversity that we see here in Canada.”

Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank is part of an international network of publically banked cord blood units. Currently there are almost 700,000 publically banked cord blood units around the world. However, even with this access, it is still not possible to find a match for about half of the patients in this country who need a stem cell transplant. Canada needs to continue to build the most ethnically diverse public cord blood bank possible to provide Canadian patients with more opportunities to receive a stem cell transplant.

“The delivery and ultimate transplantation of the first cord blood unit to a Canadian patient represents an important milestone,” says Dr. Graham Sher, chief executive officer with Canadian Blood Services. “It is the realization of a commitment, several years in the making, to provide a public cord blood bank that creates transplant opportunities For All Canadians, the theme of our recent fundraising campaign.”

Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank opened in 2013. The provincial and territorial ministers of health (outside of Québec) contributed to the total cost of $48 million to establish and operate the bank. With the help of many generous individuals and corporations, Canadian Blood Services also raised a contribution of over $12.5 million through a three-year fundraising Campaign For All Canadians.

Associated links

For information about stem cells collected through cord blood, watch our cord blood video.

Information about Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank can be found on our website at

See our infographic about cord blood donation.


Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank is now officially launched

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Media are invited to join us on June 25 for a first-hand look at Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank.

When: June 25, 2015 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m

Where: 40 Concourse Gate, Ottawa, Ontario

Who:    Heidi Elmoazzen, Director, Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank

National resource now available for Canadians
in need of stem cells


(OTTAWA) – Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank, a national, public health-care resource has been officially launched.  Expectant mothers who give birth at participating hospitals can now help build an ethnically diverse stem cell bank in Canada by donating their baby’s cord blood.

Five hospital sites in four cities – Ottawa (2), Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver have partnered with Canadian Blood Services to build this program. “This is a significant achievement for the Canadian health-care system,” said Dr. Graham Sher, Canadian Blood Services chief executive officer. “Through our hospital partners, we are able to provide expectant mothers the opportunity to donate to a national public cord blood bank; increasing the chances for patients who need a stem cell transplant to find a match.”

Cord blood is a rich source of blood forming stem cells that can be used in the treatment of over 80 diseases and disorders. With the number of Canadian patients waiting to receive a stem cell transplant tripling over the last five years, demand for stem cells has been growing at a steady rate.

On any given day, nearly 1,000 Canadians are in need of a stem cell donor and many of these patients are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.  With Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank we are increasing the opportunities for these patients to find a stem cell match, as well as contributing to the international database for patients around the world.  Approximately 25 per cent of people requiring a stem cell transplant are able to find a match within their own family – the other 75 per cent must look outside their families for an unrelated donor.  Even with access to over 635,000 publicly - banked cord blood units and over 25.5 million adult donors, unfortunately, half of the patients in Canada requiring a stem cell donor are without a match.   

In March 2011, provincial and territorial ministries of health (except Quebec) committed to the establishment of an ethnically diverse, national, publicly-funded stem cell bank from umbilical cord blood. A $48 million investment was made of which Canadian Blood Services committed to raising $12.5 million in public funding. To fulfill the commitment and make the national public cord blood bank a reality, Canadian Blood Services embarked on its first fundraising campaign, the Campaign For All Canadians.  Through the generosity of individuals and corporations across Canada, over $12.5 million dollars was raised.  


Quick Facts

  • Our partnering hospitals are:
    • The Ottawa Hospital General Campus and Civic Campus,
    • William Osler Health System’s Brampton Civic Hospital,
    • Alberta Health Services’ Lois Hole Hospital for Women in Edmonton, and
    • BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre in Vancouver.
  • The above hospitals are now collecting cord blood donations to be banked publically from expectant mothers who deliver in these locations.
  • Cord blood stem cells are less mature than adult stem cells from bone marrow or peripheral blood which means that cord blood stem cells do not necessarily require the donor and patient to be a perfect match.
  • Approximately 75 per cent of patients rely on the generosity of an unrelated stem cell donor to save their life.
  • Blood stem cells are immature cells that give rise to the cells found in the bloodstream: red blood cells for oxygen transportation, platelets for blood clotting and white blood cells for fighting infections.
  • Mothers delivering at The Ottawa Hospital (Civic Campus or General Campus) are given the option to consent to donate their baby’s cord blood for research if the cord blood unit does not qualify to be banked.

Associated Resources



What is cord blood?

Associated Links