Most stem cell donors not family

Like Stephen, the majority of patients who need blood stem cells turn to unrelated donors.

Only about three in 10 patients find a match in their family, said Dr William Hwang, medical director of the Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB).

Blood stem cells help produce white blood cells to fight infection, red blood cells to carry oxygen and platelets for clotting.

Used to treat blood disorders like leukaemia, immune deficiencies and metabolic diseases, stem cells are found in bone marrow and peripheral blood circulating around the body.

They are also found in the umbilical cord and placenta.

Cord blood is collected after child birth - when the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, blood is taken from the section attached to the placenta.

Associate Professor Chan Mei Yoke said that compared to other sources of stem cells, cord blood is less exposed to infectious agents.

It is also easier to transplant stem cells using mismatched cord blood, the Head of Haematology and Oncology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) added.

Dr Hwang of SCBB said that cord blood is also readily available, unlike bone marrow or peripheral blood, where potential donors may back out.


But it is limited by the amount of stem cells that can be harvested, he said.

There are four cord blood banks in Singapore and SCBB is the only public one.

Cord blood donated to the bank is available for any patient who requires it, in Singapore and around the world.

SCBB also maintains a public registry so that doctors can search for matches.

In contrast, private cord blood banks charge a fee to store cord blood, which is accessible only to the donor's family.

Since its establishment in 2005, SCBB has received more than 26,000 donations. Due to stringent requirements, not all of the blood donated is stored.

It has more than 10,000 cord blood units available for stem cell transplants.

The SCBB was recently accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. This is the highest standard for cord blood banks, Dr Hwang said.

"(The accreditation) offers assurance to transplant centres that SCBB's cord blood units would give their patients the best chance for survival," he said.