Boosting stem cell patients’ chances for a match

Our stem cell program links donors to patients — in Canada and around the world — who need transplants to improve their health and quality of life.

Canadian Blood Services provides a range of services to support patients living with any of the more than 80 diseases and disorders that can be treated with stem cell transplants.

  • We operate a national registry of adult donors. We identify potential matches for patients, ensure that registered donors are able to follow through with their donations and coordinate the process of getting stem cell products where they’re needed.
  • We collect umbilical cord blood and manufacture stem cells through Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank. By the end of 2017–2018, the bank had listed 2,865 cord blood units. The bank is recognized globally for its donor diversity and high-quality inventory, which exceeds all key international quality indicators.
  • We provide human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing services that ensure the best possible matches between patients who need stem cells and generous donors. We also provide autologous, or self-donation, services for eligible patients.
  • Internationally, we’re part of a network of donor registries that gives stem cell clinicians and patients in 52 countries access to more than 32 million potential unrelated adult donors and over 752,000 cord blood units.

In 2017–2018, we supported 451 stem cell transplants for Canadian patients and 76 stem cell transplants for international patients. These excellent results were the highest we’ve seen over the past several years and 36 per cent higher than the previous year. We can attribute this growth, in part, to an increase in the number of conditions now treated with stem cell transplantation and an increase in transplants in older patients as a result of medical advances.

We’re also encouraged that our focus on promoting stem cell donation among young males and people of ethnically diverse ancestry has yielded promising results for the patients who count on them. Stem cells from young male donors are preferred because they decrease the possibility of post-transplant complications. And increasing the ethnic diversity of the registry is critical for patients since the best chance of finding a match is within their own ethnic group.

Going forward, we’ll continue to seek deeper insights into the patient and donor attributes that drive successful transplants. We’re constantly looking for new ways to recruit unrelated donors who offer the greatest probability of success, particularly for hard-to-match patients. We work with our health-system partners to minimize the time needed to acquire and distribute stem cell products for patients in need. And collectively, we’re exploring the potential of cellular therapies — in which cells are transplanted into patients to help treat specific diseases — so we can coordinate our efforts and future investments in the development of specialized products.