Direct-to-consumer markets for stem cells: A comparative analysis of Australia, Japan and Singapore

A/Prof. Tamra Lysaght1

1National University Of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

In recent years, a global industry has emerged selling products and services marketed as stem cells direct-to-the-consumer (DTC) for the treatment of serious diseases and medical conditions. These products are typically marketed DTC over the Internet for many conditions that have not been approved for marketing by regulators or demonstrated as safe and effective in the peer reviewed scientific literature. Industries exploiting this market are now well-established in both Australia and Japan, but not in Singapore; even though all three countries have sophisticated scientific and regulatory infrastructure to protect health consumers while promoting translational stem cell research and innovation. I draw on collaborative research conducted in Australia, Japan and Singapore to reflect on the salient regulatory frameworks, institutional practices, and ethical norms that may have shaped this situation where Singapore has emerged as being both highly favourable for biomedical innovation while controlling unwanted marketing practices that threaten the country’s bioeconomy. I conclude with considerations of how these factors might inform regulatory and governance frameworks to encourage responsible innovation in the biosciences.


My research interests lie broadly around the sociopolitical, ethical and regulatory issues surrounding stem cell innovation, regenerative medicines, precision medicine, genomics and reproductive technologies. I am currently an Assistant Professor and Phase Director of the Health Ethics, Law and Professionalism (HeLP) Programme at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics, National University of Singapore. I hold multiple grants on projects examining the ethics and regulation of innovative stem cell-based therapies, genome editing and Big Data, and have research interests in governance issues surrounding the return of incidental findings and data sharing in precision medicine.