In 2005, Dr. Virro, a Toronto-area Obstetrician, and his wife Jane Virro keenly watched as the United States developed its plan for a National Public Cord Blood Program. George W. Bush was in power at that time and, in his efforts to curtail the use of embryonic stem cells, had turned his attention to umbilical cord blood stem cells as an alternative therapy. At the same time, Canadian Hematologists attending a Toronto conference were strongly supporting the need for a public banking system in Canada. It came quickly apparent that few Canadian politicians had knowledge of cord blood stem cells let alone plans to develop a national public system.
Canadian parents who wanted to donate their baby’s cord blood had nowhere to turn. Worse yet, transplant physicians could not find treatment for their sick patients and people were dying while looking for cord blood samples.
It became a personal and professional commitment of Dr. Michael and Jane Virro to start a public cord blood program. In 2005, they opened the Victoria Angel Registry of Hope. Its mission is to provide high-quality, cord blood stem cell units internationally for medical treatment and to research scientists. Expectant parents from more than 30 Toronto-area hospitals were invited to donate their baby’s cord blood. Public banking is not inexpensive. Initially, Victoria Angel was funded by Cells for Life, a family cord blood bank in Toronto. After much work, it became a registered Canadian charity in 2011. Dr. Elisabeth Semple, Dr. Michael Virro, Jane Virro and a group of experienced and committed Board Members* volunteered their time and expertise to the charity to fundraise and develop an internationally recognized, high-quality public cord blood banks. Staff was hired to perform nursing, quality and fundraising tasks.
Not only has the program acquired an impressive inventory of high-quality stem cell units for medical use, it also proudly shares the following successes:
1. Victoria Angel’s program has passed biannual regulatory inspections by Health Canada
2. FACT accreditation, an internationally-recognized designation, has been achieved. This demonstrates operational excellence to transplant centres, physicians and their patients.
3. Victoria Angel cord blood units are tissue-typed and listed on an international stem cell registry in the Netherlands, Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide (BMDW). This allows physicians from around the world to have access to Victoria Angel’s stem cell units for their patients.
4. The public bank has been granted an IND Designation by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) in the USA which allows the cord blood units to be used in the USA.
5. The most recent VA transplant unit was transported to the European Union; bone marrow engraftment was successful.
6. Research units have been provided to many research groups including Canadian Blood Services, SickKids Hospital (Toronto), and University Health Network.
In May 2018, as the co-founders, Dr. Michael and Jane Virro retire, Victoria Angel’s public cord blood banking program will be managed and owned by the Cell Care Group of companies: Cell Care, Insception LifeBank Biosciences and Cells for Life. Victoria Angel’s mission and vision will continue.
*Board Members: Dr. Elisabeth Semple, Leslie Gallagher, John Tobias, Dr. Michael Virro, Jane Virro, Dr. Donna Wall, Dr. Colin McKerlie, Marisa Rocca, Lou Rocca, Mike Baldassarra, Melissa Baldassarra, Kim Naylor, Steve Kanellakis, Carla DeGasperis, Honorary Members: Marco Guglietti, Michaela Guglietti
It is simple – the more samples we can accept and the more lives we can save.