Procuring, Importing, and Transfer-In of HBM

Prohibition Against Commercial Trading of Human Tissues

Effective 1 Jan 2017, HBRA prohibits commercial trading (i.e. buying and selling) of human tissue, as well as advertisements relating to such trading. This prohibition upholds the principle that human tissue should be obtained only through altruistic donations.

This may affect you if you make use of human tissue in the course of your work. If you have previously made arrangements to obtain and/or supply human tissue, whether for use in therapy or research, please ensure that your arrangements are not in contravention of the prohibitions in the HBRA. Further information can be found on MOH's website. A guide is available here.

Note that HBRA Section 32(6) and HOTA Section 14(4) have provisions for the purchase of human blood products and plasma fractions for research.  

  • For human blood, reimbursement for any cost and expenses incurred is not allowed under HOTA. 
  • Notwithstanding, blood products that have been subjected to processing or treatment are exempted from this prohibition under HOTA.   

What about Tissue Products and Tissue Derivatives? 

These are usually made from human biological material and would have already undergone substantial manipulation and processing. Where these are not considered to be human tissue, they can be bought and sold on a commercial basis. This would include cell lines. 

How to obtain human tissues lawfully from commercial vendors?

While the HBRA prohibits commercial trading of human tissue, it allows for payment to reimburse the reasonable costs and expenses incurred in the process of collecting and supplying human tissue – including the removal of tissue from the donor, and the subsequent transportation, preparation, preservation, quality control and storage of the tissue. The payment must not be for the purchase or sale of the tissue itself.

In this regard, obtaining tissue from sources that are part of a tissue sharing network or exchange programme, whether local or international, and paying only reasonable costs and expenses in relation to such sourcing, would generally be permitted. In contrast, sourcing for tissue from foreign commercial suppliers or tissue banks that routinely charge a price for selling the tissue itself, should be done cautiously.

When making arrangements to obtain human tissue, it is advisable to clarify the arrangements with the supplier providing the human tissue to ensure that the supply of the tissue is on a cost-recovery basis. These arrangements and transactions with the supplier should be documented accordingly.

Note: For imported tissues, there must be documentary evidence that consent has been obtained in accordance with the legal or ethical requirements of the place where the tissue is imported from. 

IMPORTANT: Even if you are not personally collecting tissues from donors, the storage, import and export of HBM falls under the Tissue Banking Activities of the Human Tissue Framework under HBRA. Please register your collection with NTU-IRB to ensure that you are compliant with legislative requirements.

Transfer-in of human tissues from collaborators / partners

Local Partners: For the transfer-in of human tissues from local collaborators/ partners, PIs are to obtain documentary evidence from the source that consent was obtained in accordance with HBRA requirements. 

Overseas Partners: For the transfer-in of human tissues from overseas collaborators/ partners, PIs are to obtain documentary evidence from the source that consent was obtained in accordance with the legal/ ethical requirements of the country where the tissue came from.