In 2005, Dr. Virro, a Toronto-area Obstetrician, 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. In 2004 he commissioned the Institute of Medicine, IOM, to prepare a report for congress that outlined its recommendations for a US public cord blood banking system. 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.
The Quebec government funded a new public bank in 2004 through Hema Quebec. The provinces were starting to contemplate a national public cord blood bank but progress was slow. 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. Virro and his wife, Jane, to start a public cord blood program as a philanthropic division of the family cord blood bank, Cells for Life. A significant financial investment was made by Cells for Life to develop a high-quality, accredited program. However, in order to continue to grow the inventory of samples, more money was required. Two plans were put in place: Plan A – to acquire a portion of the government monies allocated to public cord blood banking and Plan B – to acquire charitable status as a means of raising necessary funding.
In 2011, the provincial governments announced that monies would be directed to Canadian Blood Services (CBS) to coordinate a national public cord blood program. CBS has allocated all funds to building two cord blood processing laboratories (Ottawa and Edmonton) and working with 5 hospitals over 9 years. They started accepting samples in fall 2013 in Ottawa. CBS acknowledges that additional public banking services from HemaQuebec and Victoria Angel are important in developing Canada’s much-needed inventory of samples. Victoria Angel is committed to working in synergy with international and Canadian public cord blood programs. Victoria Angel samples are listed on the international registry in the Netherlands, BMDW. This allows physicians from around the world to have access to Victoria Angel’s stem cell units for bone marrow transplant and leukemia patients.
In 2011, Plan B became the reality for Victoria Angel’s public cord blood bank; Victoria Angel acquired charitable status. Fundraising initiatives are in place to fund the bank’s activities.
Generous supporters, annual campaigns and fundraising events such as exclusive Valentine Dinners at Sotto Sotto Ristorante, Golf Tournaments and a James Bond inspired gala at Casa Loma have helped to raise almost $2 million.
It is simple – the more money we can raise, the more samples we can accept and the more lives we can save.