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Cord blood banking in S'pore likely to grow

Demand for private cord blood storage in Singapore will grow at around 9 per cent per year, according to consulting firm Deloitte. There are now four cord blood banks in Singapore. 

SINGAPORE: Demand for private cord blood storage in Singapore will grow at around 9 per cent per year, according to consulting firm Deloitte.

There are now four cord blood banks in Singapore. Three of them - Cordlife, Stemcord and Cryoviva Singapore - are privately-run.

One of them, Cordlife, sees business from the government's push to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have children.

Cordlife released eight units of cord blood to families over the past five years. One unit of cord blood is between 90-150ml.

Half of these were used in transplants to treat blood-related disorders.

The other half were used to treat neuroblastoma - a rare type of childhood cancer - and cerebral palsy, which is a brain injury either at birth, in-utero, or after birth.

Gwendolene Yeo, senior director of Cordlife Group, said: "In the last 10 years or so, the medical utility of cord blood usage has more than doubled. So naturally, this has contributed significantly to the increased levels of cord blood banking."

Cord blood is blood obtained from the umbilical cord at birth.

It is a rich source of stem cells, and is stored by being cryogenically frozen at temperatures below -150 degrees Celsius.

35-year-old Veronica Yong is one parent who has chosen to bank the cord blood of her two sons.

She said: "I don't think any doctor can actually give a fool-proof guarantee that every child will be born healthy and will be able to grow up healthily. Anything can happen. So we decided to embark on it, because at the end of the day, financially we were able to, so it wasn't a very difficult decision to make."

Banking cord blood for personal use and use by siblings does not come cheap.

Private cord blood banks in Singapore have a one-time enrolment fee of around S$2,000, and an annual storage fee over S$200.

For example, Cordlife has a one-time enrolment fee of S$2,150 and an annual storage fee of S$250.

Stemcord charges S$1,950 and S$275 respectively, but only charges the annual storage fee from the second year.

The only public cord blood bank in Singapore - the Singapore Cord Blood Bank - accepts cord blood units only as donations.

Like other public cord blood banks, it does not allow donors to choose their recipients.

The growing popularity of cord blood banking in Singapore signals an increasingly affluent population, as well as a growing confidence in a future where a wide variety of ailments can be treated using stem cells.

Cord blood banking is still relatively new in Singapore.

But some researchers have expressed concern over the necessity of private cord blood banks.

According to Dr Vivek Tanavde from Agency for Science, Technology & Research’s (A*STAR) Bioinformatics Institute, there are no accurate estimates on the likelihood of children needing their own stored cord blood stem cells in the future.

Still, Cordlife is optimistic about its business prospects, citing incentives targeted at encouraging marriage and parenthood.

The firm, the only cord blood bank listed on the Singapore Exchange, grew net profit by 52.9 per cent to S$12.9 million for the six months ended 31 December 2013. 

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