Singapore Cord Blood Bank
by Pek, Sara Leng Leng
The Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB) was officially opened by then Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan on 28 September 2005. The accredited public cord blood bank was set up in response to the demand from paediatricians and haematologists to increase the number of cord blood units available for unrelated blood stem cell transplant patients in Singapore. It is also Southeast Asia’s first public cord blood bank.1 Located at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), SCBB is Singapore’s centralised source for the processing and storage of donated umbilical cord blood.
Cord blood is the blood that flows through the umbilical cord from the placenta to the foetus. It is collected from the umbilical cord connected to the placenta after delivery of the baby. It is then tested, frozen and stored in a cord blood bank for future use. Cord blood is rich in haematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells (HSC), which are responsible for the production of new blood cells. These primitive and undeveloped stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types. They are used in haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) for patients with life-threatening diseases such as leukaemia, lymphoma, immune diseases and genetic disorders.2
Cord blood transplant is a viable alternative to bone marrow transplant as patients undergoing the former are less likely to develop graft-versus-host disease in which the new stem cells attack the host’s immune system due to an incompatibility. The chance of finding a matching cord blood donor is also much higher than getting a compatible bone marrow donor.3
Establishment and functions of the SCBB
SingHealth, a cluster of public healthcare institutions in Singapore, laid the groundwork for the SCBB, while the National Healthcare Group, Children’s Cancer Foundation and Club Rainbow Singapore also lent their support to establish the SCBB in 2005.4 As an independent and non-profit organisation, the SCBB depends on public funds and donations to support the stringent and expensive process of storing the donated public cord blood inventory.5
The SCBB has an administrative office at Novena Specialist Centre, and an operational office at KKH.6 The current medical director and chief executive officer of SCBB are Associate Professor William Hwang Ying Khee and Tan-Huang Shuo Mei respectively.7
Cord blood that is donated to a public cord blood bank is not reserved for the donor’s family but is made available to any patient in need of a matching cord blood for HSCT. Cord blood donations at all delivering hospitals are voluntary, confidential and at no cost to the donor. With the expectant mother’s informed consent, cord blood is collected after the safe delivery of the baby. The SCBB’s laboratory technicians will evaluate the cord blood unit (CBU) before it is processed, tested and stored according to strict international accreditation standards.8
All CBUs are tested for human leukocyte antigen (HLA) before banking, and the results of this HLA testing are stored in a central register. A patient who requires a cord blood transplant needs to consult a haematologist or transplant physician, who will then request a search at SCBB using the patient’s HLA report. As tissue types are inherited, patients are more likely to find a match from their own ethnic group. Having CBUs from diverse ethnic backgrounds in a public cord blood bank increases a patient’s chances of finding a match. There are constant searches for SCBB’s CBUs both locally and internationally. SCBB conducts free searches for licensed and accredited transplant centres.9
Upon the establishment of SCBB, it targeted to store 10,000 blood units within the next five years.10 KKH, National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital have been on the cord blood donation programme since the opening of SCBB. To meet the target, the following private hospitals also joined the programme: Gleneagles Hospital, Mount Alvernia Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Orchard Hospital, Raffles Hospital, Parkway East Hospital (formerly known as East Shore Hospital) and Thomson Medical Centre.11
As of 31 January 2015, SCBB has over 10,000 CBUs in its inventory. It has facilitated a total of 189 transplants with 102 local transplants and 87 international transplants as at 29 February 2016.12
SCBB has attained several accreditations. In 2007, it was granted membership to the National Marrow Donor Programme based in the United States after meeting a set of stringent laboratory criteria. Asian patients around the world who cannot find a matching CBU can search for a suitable match in SCBB’s public cord blood database. It also received accreditation from AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Bank) in 2010 for optimising patient and donor care and safety. In April 2014, it achieved accreditation from FACT-NetCord for unrelated and related cord blood collection, banking, and release for administration.13
Successful cord blood transplants in Singapore
The first life that was saved through the use of unrelated cord blood from the SCBB took place in May 2006. A 13-month-old baby, Hoh Sin Jun, underwent cord blood transplant at the KKH to treat the “Bubble Boy disease”, a condition known as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) where one’s body is unable to fight infections.14
1. Soh, N. (2004, January 20). First public cord blood bank set up here. The Straits Times, p. 1; Tan, J. (2005, September 29). Public cord blood bank opens. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (2013, May). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/donate/faq/Pages/Home.aspx
3. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (n.d.). About SCBB. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/stemcells/UmbilicalCordBlood/Pages/Home.aspx; Umbilical cords, placentas being used to save lives. (1997, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (n.d.). History/milestones. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/aboutscbb/history/Pages/Home.aspx
5. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (n.d.). Support our mission. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/aboutscbb/support/Pages/Home.aspx
6. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (n.d.). Contact us. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/contactus/Pages/Home.aspx
7. Singhealth. (n.d.). Umbilical cord blood transplant. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from SingHealth website: https://www.singhealth.com.sg/Transplant/Services/Pages/umbilical-cord-blood-Transplant.aspx
8. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (2016, March, 4). Cord Blood Donation Process. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/donate/process/Pages/Home.aspx
9. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (2013, May). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/donate/faq/Pages/Home.aspx
10. Tan, J. (2006, August 19). Public cord blood bank turns to private hospitals. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (2013, May). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/donate/faq/Pages/Home.aspx
12. Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (n.d.). History/milestones. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/aboutscbb/history/Pages/Home.aspx
13. Tan, J. (2007, September 25). S’pore cord blood bank joins global network. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Cord Blood Bank. (n.d.). Accreditation/affiliation/membership. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Cord Blood Bank website: http://www.scbb.com.sg/aboutscbb/membership/Pages/Home.aspx
14. Tan, J., & Lim, W. C. (2007, May 22). Home again: 1st baby saved by cord blood. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.