The first phase of a public nation-wide umbilical cord blood network opened Monday in the nation’s capital – and its set to grow into other major centres in the next year, including Edmonton.

On Monday, an Ottawa hospital became the first in Canada to accept umbilical cord blood donations for the National Public Cord Blood Bank.

Canadian Blood Services said it’s hoped units donated to the cord blood bank will eventually go to help hundreds in Canada, and worldwide.

“Over the next six years we have a target of 18,000 donated cord blood units that meet the criteria for banking, and by the we do this we hope to save a number, hundreds of Canadian patients and international lives,” Sue Smith, Executive Director of Stem Cells for Canadian Blood Services, said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

While only mothers in Ottawa can donate to the blood bank, by mid-2014, people in Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver will be able to donate.

“It’s very easy, any woman over the age of 18, as long as they have had a healthy birth and it’s beyond 34 weeks gestation [can donate],” Smith said.

Although it will be the first time mothers in Edmonton can donate to a public cord blood bank, it won’t be the first time donations would be open – John Akabutu created the Alberta Cord Blood Bank, and has been collecting donations of cord blood from across Canada since 1996, mostly funded through private donations.

“We have decided to step aside, especially in the areas where the new bank is working, so we don’t have duplication, but in other areas we will still continue,” Akabutu said.

However, Akabutu said he won’t shut down the cord blood bank, even though they might not eventually collect as many donations as before, since it can be very difficult for patients who need a transplant to find a match.

The entire nation-wide operation – setting up two stem cell manufacturing facilities and four cord blood banks – is expected to cost $48 million over eight years.

Canadian Blood Services has agreed to raise funds to cover $12.8 million – but the government is covering the rest.

With files from Nicole Weisberg