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Truly, it must be fun to be a billionaire.

Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson has done it again. In the past few months he has offered up $3 billion to promote research into sustainable forms of energy and launched a $25 million prize to whoever comes up with a technology that yanks at least one billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere. (See my blog of February 13, 2007.)

This month Branson has opened Virgin Health Bank, the first bank dedicated to collecting a baby’s cord blood and saving it for both the baby’s use in later years and for the use of patients with blood diseases who need a transplant of compatible blood. Researchers will have access to the public half of the cord-blood accounts.

Some scientists believe that stem cells could also be culled from cord blood or from the placenta and coaxed to grow into new tissues that would be used in replacement parts for defective or damaged cells and organs as a person grows older.

The tab is 1,500 British sterling per deposit of blood, paid by the parents of the babe. Sadly, given the exchange rate these days, that’s close to 3,000 U.S. dollars. Branson says the profits from the venture will go toward funding stem-cell research.

Now, I’m not trying to create St. Richard here. Branson is no Mother Teresa, even if a recent photograph in Nature about the announcement of the health bank shows the unnaturally bright-blond-haired Branson looking angelic as he stares up into the giant image of a baby in utero.

Branson is a consummate showman who knows how to turn his good deeds into great PR–and in this case, there is nothing wrong with that–but then again, so was Mother Teresa.

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