Since the 2000s, new parents and parents-to-be in Singapore now have the chance to do cord blood banking, i.e. store the baby’s cord blood for the future.
Unless you’re well-informed, cord blood banking is very hard to make a snap decision about. But this is what happens to many parents in Singapore. That’s because cord blood banking is something with a very small window of opportunity. It must be done right after baby is born, and you have to make your decision between Week 28 and Week 32 of your pregnancy.
The cost of cord blood banking can be hard to swallow – it’s in the thousands. But then the benefits are said to be immense. You might even be told that storing cord blood is like “medical insurance” for your baby.
So, is it worth the money? How exactly does it work? And what are the options? We’re here to give you the answers.
What is cord blood banking?
Cord blood is blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta after delivery. It’s precious because it’s a great source of haematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells (HSC) which have the unique ability to develop into many different types of blood cells.
These cells are literally too immature to know what they want to be when they grow up. So, they’re adaptable and can be matched to more functions and patients without side effects or rejection. As a result, they can be used to repair tissues, organs, blood vessels and treat of a host of diseases especially blood disorders and blood cancers.
Cord blood banking is storing the stem cells from the cord blood for future medical use. This service has been available in Singapore since 2001.
The procedure involves drawing cord blood from the umbilical cord after birth. This is both painless and harmless to you and your baby. The blood is then bagged and brought to the lab to be checked for diseases. If your blood cells make the cut, they are are then frozen (“cryogenically preserved”) in tanks for the length of time you desire.
How much does cord blood banking cost?
In Singapore, there are actually 2 options for cord blood banking: public and private. The former is actually a donation, similar to how adults donate blood. Once your baby’s cord blood is donated, it’s up for anyone else in need to use.
The private option, also known as family cord blood banking, lets you store the cord blood in a personal “account”, and is set aside for your family’s use. You will have to pay for private cord blood storage, and this can be done at 4 places:
|Cord blood bank||Cost (cord blood storage for 21 years)|
|Singapore Cord Blood Bank||$5,200|
|Cordlife||$6,600 to $6,700|
|Cryoviva||$4,950 to $6,000|
Cord blood banking definitely isn’t cheap, though it helps that you can use your child’s CDA account to pay for the storage. Still, you’re looking at a $5,000 investment, so the least you should do is assess the 4 organisations and weigh the benefits of doing it.
In deciding which cord blood bank to go with, apart from the cost, you should also check on the organisation’s:
- Reputation: this is a long-term commitment and you want an organisation that has a good track record, has been around and can be counted on to stay around
- Accreditation: how recognised are its processing and storage methods
- Technology: what kind of technology does it use for both processing and storage
We’ll go into the 4 organisations in a bit more detail, before discussing the benefits of cord blood banking.
Singapore Cord Blood Bank
Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB) is the only public cord blood bank in Singapore and has been around since 2005. It used to only take in donations, but since late 2017, SCBB now offers private cord blood banking as well.
You might choose to donate your cord blood rather than paying for storage. Donating to SCBB is free, and it can save the lives of others. In fact, cord blood stored in the public bank has a much higher chance of being used for good – 2.2% – compared to a much slimmer 0.04% chance of use in a private bank.
If you donate and require a cord blood transplant in the future, you can withdraw for free, whereas a non-donor who needs a withdrawal would need to pay up to $27,000.
Of course, many Singaporeans would still choose to save the cord blood for their own family just in case. At SCBB, private cord blood banking is only available if you deliver in a government hospital.
It costs $2,200 for processing and storage for the first 5 years, then $1,000 for every 5 years after. The total cost for storing it for 21 years (up to when your baby turns into an adult) is $5,200.
Cordlife is Singapore’s first private cord blood bank – it actually pre-dates SCBB as it opened in 2001. It’s also Singapore’s biggest private cord blood bank.
What’s good about Cordlife is that it has its own storage facility, which means there’s greater control over security and storage prices. It’s also the only private cord blood bank that is SGX-listed, promising transparency and corporate governance.
Cordlife is the only cord blood bank in Singapore that lets you store your umbilical cord lining together with the cord blood. The umbilical cord lining has stem cells called Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and Epithelial stem cells (EpSCs) that play a big part in the formation of skin or muscle and can repair injured tissues and organs.
Cord blood banking costs $1,200 to $1,600 for the upfront payment, and then $250 to $275 a year subsequently. After age 21, it’s free. So the total cost of 21 years of storage is $6,600 to $6,700.
If you want to store the umbilical cord lining instead, it’s slightly cheaper. $1,500 to $1,900 for upfront payment, then $200 to $250 a year for storage, which is free after age 21. In total, it’ll cost $5,500 to $6,900.
You can also do both together (cord blood + lining), you can save on the upfront payment as you just pay a lump sum of $2,800. The usual rates for storage apply.
StemCord is the 2nd oldest private cord blood bank in Singapore, having opened in 2002. It’s also the second largest.
What’s special at StemCord is that they store your baby’s cord blood in 2 cryo bags in separate facilities. That’s so that you can have more security (if something happens to 1 bag, you still have the other) plus you have more than 1 chance at treatment (since, once thawed, the cells can’t be re-frozen).
Price-wise, StemCord is quite a bit cheaper than Cordlife. Cord blood storage for 21 years costs $5,850. You have the option of storing Mesenchymal stem cells together with the cord blood, and the total for both is $8,800 for 21 years.
Cryoviva is the newest private cord blood bank in Singapore and opened in 2014. One thing to note is that they work with SCBB for processing and storage rather than handling it entirely in-house like Cordlife.
It has probably the most affordable rate of $4,950 for the full 21 years of storage, but this is only if you pay in full up front. Alternatively you can pay annually ($1,100 a year for up to 5 years) or monthly ($100 a month for up to 5 years) if you’re not comfortable with such a big commitment.
So depending on which payment option you go for, the total cost would range from $4,950 to $6,000.
What are the benefits of cord blood banking?
Clearly, cord blood banking in Singapore isn’t cheap. But it does have its potential benefits (as well as drawbacks).
First of all, the procedure seems to makes sense. Normally, the umbilical cord is discarded after birth. With cord blood banking, you’re not letting those precious stem cells go to waste. Plus, cord blood is painless to extract and can be stored for about 20 years.
Cord blood stem cells are thought to be valuable because they can be used for stem cell transplants later in life to treat over over 80 diseases including cancers, blood disorders, metabolic disorders and immune disorders. So the initial cost may be high, but there’s a chance you’ll reap the benefits in the future.
In addition, your child’s cord blood might be used to save other family members as these stem cells can adapt to other genetic material.
But it’s not a magic cure – there’s only a 25% chance of success for siblings. The odds of your child’s cord blood saving you is very low, since he only has half your genetic material, and there might not be enough stem cells to treat a full-grown adult.
Research also shows it’s very unlikely that your child can use his own cord blood to save himself from genetic or auto-immune diseases, because that blood may already carry the defects.
In all, the chance of your family actually using the cord blood saved from birth is very low. Doctors in Singapore estimate that the chance of families retrieving their privately banked cord blood for treatment is between 1 in 2,500 (0.04%) and 1 in 20,000 (0.0005%).
Conclusion: Should you save your baby’s cord blood?
Stem cell transplants have many uses now and many possibilities for the future as medical science advances. Throwing away such potential would be a colossal waste. So without a doubt, the ability to store up cord blood is a good thing.
The question is, should you store it privately for your family if the odds of withdrawing it for personal use is so low?
If any of your close relatives already have a disease that can be treated with cord blood – then yes, you should probably save that cord blood for their treatment. You’d have a chance to put your cord blood to good use.
Otherwise, cord blood banking is best only if you have the money to spare.
One option to consider is donating your cord blood to Singapore Cord Blood Bank after you deliver, instead of putting it in a private bank where there’s a very slim chance of it being used. About 70% of patients who need a transplant can’t find a match, so there’s a higher chance you’ll save someone’s life this way.
And on the off chance that you do need a transplant in the future, you can withdraw cord blood from the public bank for free. After all, buying a cord blood sample in Singapore can cost up to $75,000 – not a sum to be sniffed at.
Would you rather donate your cord blood to the public or save it for your family’s use? Tell us why in the comments!