Quebec's blood agency is trying to recruit expectant mothers for its umbilical cord blood bank.

Cord blood stem cells are in high demand at hospitals and stocks are limited at Héma-Québec.

Cord blood stem cells are rich in nutrients and oxygen, and are being used increasingly as an alternative to bone marrow transplants.

In the past, patients have died waiting for bone marrow transplants, but that could all change with the new blood cord bank.

The creation of a public umbilical cord blood bank is long overdue, said Dr. Lucie Morin, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital.

"At this point in time, it is not available for everybody as a lot of these banks are private and not everybody can afford that," Morin said.

In Canada, private cord blood banks charge $600 to $850 up front, with annual fees of another $100 to store the cord blood.

Cord blood has only become a recognized therapy in the past few years.

"Basically what we're collecting is what used to be biomedical waste but now we can put that blood to very good use," said Gilles Délage, vice-president of medical affairs at Héma-Québec.

So far 255 women have volunteered, but the bank has only harvested 21 umbilical cords.

Of course, there is a waiting period to harvest umbilical cords: nine months.