The Ottawa Hospital will be the first of four participating hospitals to start collecting umbilical cord blood for stem cell treatments in Canada's first national public bank.

While Quebec has its own program called Héma-Quebec, this bank for the rest of the country will involve hospitals in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.

There has been $48 million in government funding from Canada's provinces and territories for the bank.

Ottawa will start collecting umbilical cord blood in the spring of 2013, while the hospitals in other cities will follow suit sometime in 2014.


The national public umbilical cord blood bank is starting with stem cells tested in Ottawa. (CBC)

Recently, families have been paying a lot for private firms to store their own umbilical cord stem cells, according to local health officials, because there has been a lack of inventory publicly available.

For eight-year-old Alysha Dykstra, umbilical cord blood was a life-saver. The Guelph, Ont., resident was diagnosed with severe leukemia four years ago but her cancer is now in remission.

"Had Alysha not had that cord blood, and gone ahead with the [bone marrow] transplant ... we'd be in a very different position right now," said her mother Karen Dykstra.

Stem cells from umbilical cords cause fewer complications and they can be stored in a bank, which makes them a very important tool, according to Dr. Jack Kitts, president and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital.

All the hospitals will collect, test and store the stem cells from their blood banks thanks to a room called BioArchive, which can cryogenically store blood from donated umbilical cords. It is run by Thermogenesis Corp.

The forthcoming umbilical cord blood bank will be able to hold 8,000 samples and Canadian Blood Services hopes to fill the archives in less than eight years.