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Stem cell & cord blood collection: is it worth it?

By Alice Bradley

Ladies! Has your monthly time been a period of shame and hiding? Well! It turns out that menstrual blood is much more than womanly offscourings. Hide no longer, and rejoice in that precious Red Gold spilling forth from your parts.
Let me explain, before you click your way out of here. Cryo-cell International has launched C’elle, a service that will collect your menstrual fluid and extract stem cells from them. Calling menses “your monthly miracle,” the site exults, “… menstrual stem cells are unique because they have many properties and characteristics similar to both bone marrow and embryonic stem cells; they multiply rapidly and can differentiate into many other types of stem cells such as neural, cardiac, bone, fat, cartilage and possibly others…”

When you subscribe to the C’elle service, you receive menstrual cups and collection tubes; you gather your monthly winnings and then deposit them in the Cryo-Cell bank. (By the way, check out the introductory video on this site. Then tell me that British accent is real.) For this privilege, you will pay $499 per specimen, plus $99 for each year of storage.

Okay, the idea seems snicker-worthy, but is it as silly as it sounds?

First, let’s take a step back and talk about stem cells. If you’ve been wondering, what’s a stem cell again? Why’s everyone want them so bad and stuff?, here’s a brief explanation. Feel free to write this on your hand, if you need to.
Stem cells serve as a kind of repair system for the body. They are the only type of cell that can proliferate, or replicate many times over. They’re unspecialized, which means that they don’t exist for any single purpose. It’s like they’re unemployed, but multitalented. Because of their many talents and their ability to replicate like crazy, they can fill in for other cells that have been damaged or destroyed. Although they are by nature unspecialized, they can actually become specialized. No one is precisely sure how this process (called differentiation) occurs. Scientists have been able to create differentiation, but that particular art is still in its preliminary stages. If the process were to get nailed down, all types of cell therapies could be created. AND WE WOULD LIVE FOREVER.
Now, there’s a difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. (Cord blood, incidentally, would be considered “adult.” “Non-embryonic” is more accurate, but it’s a mouthful.) Adult stem cells are more limited in what kind of cell types they can become. The different types of stem cells and their varying degrees of “potency,” or ability to differentiate, is where I get a little woozy, so I’m going to glide right over that. Some cells are more flexible than others, is the basic point. Although, as I said, it may be possible to manipulate cells beyond their natural capability.

So let’s go back to the above quote, where C’Elle tells us that menstrual stem cells can differentiate like crazy, blar de blar. This is something that adult stem cells do not typically do, remember? Cryo-Cell is basing their enthusiastic claims (and for-profit venture) on a single study coming from Medistem, another biotechnology firm. In November, Medistem reported the discovery of these new stem cells, which reportedly behave like embryonic cells. Now: November, you may think, isn’t such a long time ago, and you would be right. You may also think that one study (which, by the way, was performed using the menstrual blood of one woman) may not tell us all we need to know before we start collecting our periods in little cups and shipping them off along with big chunks of our bank accounts. I would agree with you on this.

The New York Times reported on these new stem cells, and not surprisingly, experts greeted the news with a dose of skepticism. One of them observed that if the cells from menstrual blood are the ones that are dying, and if you want healthy endometrial cells, you could always get them from a biopsy. So why wouldn’t you?

The menstrual-blood brouhaha (try saying that three times fast) brings up a larger question: is stem-cell collection this century’s snake oil? There are all kinds of companies offering to house our stem cells: cells gathered from cord blood, from your child’s baby teeth, from bone marrow. The chances of your needing those stem cells are slim, but according to these companies, they may just save your (or your child’s) life. Is it worth it? When private cord-blood banks and the like are profit-driven, can we trust their claims? On the other hand, if you can afford to collect your baby’s cord blood (or, okay, your menstrual fluid) and you want that peace of mind, what’s the harm?

Provide your thoughts in the appropriate spaces below. Or, whoops, above.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Ariel

    February 1, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Wow. Thats just kinda gross anyway you look at it.
    Interesting, but still gross.

  • Tara

    February 1, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to check out that site this weekend just for the chuckle. That is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard!
    And. . . I chose not to bank my son’s cord blood. I like to tell myself it’s because we don’t have any of the diseases most likely to be helped by cord blood in our family history, but honestly (lean in close, I’m whispering) it’s just too damn expensive. I looked at those prices and about fell out of my chair, which would have been a tragedy as I was about the size of Moby Dick when I was looking at such things.
    For some people, though, this might make total sense. If you DO have a family history of illnesses that stem cells could potentially treat, and you are able to allocate money to store the cord blood, then at least you have a bit of insurance tucked away just in case.

  • sara

    February 1, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    oooh, i particularly like how they call it a menstrual “investment portfolio” in their video. i clearly have no real opinion on this hotly-debated issue! um, except, that i don’t like proposed legislative limitations on stem-cell research. as for all these for-profit ventures– caveat emptor.

  • Cobwebs

    February 1, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Since they’re just harvesting endometrial cells, if you’ve got the cash to store yours you’ve probably got the cash to have a chunk of healthy cells removed and stored instead. (I *really* don’t want to know the details of the menstrual fluid-collection mechanism.)
    I think, though, that you’re right about the industry still being in the snake-oil stage. Stem cells are in the news a lot lately, and any time some concept starts filtering into the public consciousness somebody will try to make a buck exploiting it.
    I suppose if you’ve got the money, it couldn’t hurt to have some cells stored. But I’d view it rather the same way as having your body frozen after death: It *might* help, but don’t necessarily bank on it.

  • bellyacher

    February 1, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    1. Ew.
    2. The model on their introductory video looks too skinny to experience her ‘monthly miracle.’
    3. Ew…or did I mention that already.
    4. I think C’Elle is sort of creepy…and please tell me who is falling for this scheme. Perhaps it’s not real…tell me it’s not real!!
    Great post though, Alice. It made me chuckle.

  • bellyacher

    February 1, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    p.s. I’m playing hostess to a few of my boyfriend’s pals tonight while he’s at work…perhaps I’ll share this with them over drinks at the pub. Brilliant…or maybe not. 🙂

  • Amy

    February 1, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I think I’ll save my money, thanks!
    As far as the cord blood issue, my belief is your better choice is to DONATE your child’s cord blood. The chances of ever needing cord blood are very slim; however, there are others out there that could benefit from that cord blood everyday. You could save a life by putting that cord blood into the National Marrow Donor Program where it can be accessed by hospital transplant units across the nation. Not all hospitals are equipped to receive cord blood donations, but many are. Go visit NMDP to learn more!!!
    Just my two cents….

  • amanda

    February 1, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    You write GORGESOULY.
    That’s all I’ve got today.

  • diva75

    February 1, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I will say this whole thing sounds crazy, but what if it does really work. The private sector (for profit companies) will always be the one’s to come up with the cutting edge science because they have the financial backing. I don’t think we should completely shut the door on this. I read the Times article and well…it’s the NY Times, so what do you really expect from them.
    I would like to ad that you don’t have to have a family history to get leukemia, lymphoma and the rest of the mentioned diseases. I’m a little up on this because we banked our 1st child’s cord blood with Cryo-Cell over the summer. It’s the most affordable life insurance you can ever purchase. Who knows, maybe there is something to this menstrual stem cell.

  • Amy

    February 1, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I’m all for donating the cord blood instead of banking too. However, we did find out when my son was two that he will have zero fertility and sometimes I wish we had banked his–maybe one day those cells can be turned into sperm? Ah, but who knows, by the time he wants kids maybe his skin cells will be able to be turned into sperm.

  • caramama

    February 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    But since a woman’s month cycle happens, you know, monthly, why would we need to freeze it? Couldn’t a person just collect the Red Gold (you are hysterical, Alice!) the month when a person needed it?
    I don’t get it. Am I missing something?

  • AmyL

    February 1, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Lol. I have to agree: ew.
    I was just reading some really great news about stem cells recently. Research by two separate teams of scientists was reported in some scientific journals (Cell and Science) in November of ’07. Both teams were able to produce pluripotent human stem cells without using embryos or eggs or cloning. (Pluripotent refers to the capability to develop into any tissue.) The reports are so highly regarded that Ian Wilmut (the guy who cloned Dolly the sheep) announced he will no longer try to clone humans because he’s going to pursue this new technique. There are concerns, but it looks like scientists will be address those and be able to use cell programming for some pretty amazing treatments in the future.
    Another interesting fact about adult vs embryonic stem cells: there are currently 73 treatments being researched that use adult stem cells, while there are no embryonic stem cell treatments being tested or used. Embryonic cells are unpredictable, and treatments based on them have had some pretty bad side effects. If I understand correctly, the programmed cells (made from adult) have all the potential of embryonic without the danger.

  • amanda

    February 1, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    so I typed *gorgeously* incorrectly. how do you resist the urge to edit these things?

  • Amy

    February 1, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I have no opinion. I’m just here to say that this is one of the most brilliantly funny posts I have ever read. Brava!

  • DM

    February 1, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    God, woman, you are brilliant (it was going to be genius (genious?) but I can’t remember how to spell today so let’s go with brilliant).
    And I spill Red Gold (hee) every freakin’ day so I’m not going to worry about collecting and storing it. Because ew.

  • edj

    February 1, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    that’s all I’ve got.

  • Frankie

    February 1, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Welp. Huh. Meh. Gah.
    I agree with others who stated it eloquently. EW.
    However, if it were true, wouldn’t it solidify womans place as QUEEN OF EVERYTHING?? I mean, not only do we bleed for 7 days and not die, but we bleed the CURE FOR EVERYTHING!!!!!

  • ozma

    February 2, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Buying stem cells is nuts considering all the treatments are experimental and the odds of you getting any illness where stem cells are (potentially at this time) used is negligible.
    The thing that surprises me is how much quackery there is out there in the world perpetrated by M.D.s and Ph.D.s I guess I should not be shocked. But basically, they are just crooks because they have to know better. Unless they engage in some kind of very trick self deception. It’s not like Joe Schmoe at the healthfood store telling you that some vitamin will stop aging or someting. These people are supposed to be guided by a code of professional ethics. (Looser obviously for scientists than for doctors. But there still is one, even if it is not codified.)

  • Annemie

    February 2, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Just a quick aside re: cord blood banking… I know that Duke runs a public cord blood bank, where you donate your cord blood (which just involves handing over your placenta after your baby’s born – no one ever touches the baby) for public use. That way, no matter who needs it, it’s there, and best of all, the donation is free. So these cells, which really so hold a lot of promise and are currently successful in treating diseases like leukemia, don’t have to go to waste. If down the line YOUR child then needed them, the bank would look to see whether your his/her blood had been used, and if not, you could even get your own back. I happen to live in Chapel Hill and thus know about this particular bank, but I would imagine there are more, and it’s worth looking into.

  • alice


    February 2, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Excellent point, Annemie. More information on cord-blood donation can be found here:

  • islaygirl

    February 2, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    just adding my voice to all those who suggested donating cord blood. Free, easy, and maybe it will save someone’s life. No brainer. (i hate that phrase. but still.)

  • crabmommy

    February 2, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    I’m still stuck on “menstrual blood brouhaha.” It’s got such rhythm! Hmm, but I dunno…put that imaginary extra money toward paying someone to clean my house or get me some menstrual blood collected. Decisions, decisions!

  • RLJ

    February 3, 2008 at 6:08 am

    I think I’m going to be sick.

  • ArfArf

    February 3, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Um, AmyL, sorry, but the reason that there are no cures being researched for ES cells is because THERE IS NO FEDERAL FUNDING!!!! Sorry. Also, adult stem cells DON’T have the potential to be as useful as ES cells. Google it.

  • Criss

    February 3, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I was totally confused about the $499 until I got to the end of the post (or was it when I was reading comments?) because I truly did not understand why I would pay someone if I am *donating* my “red gold.” I can see myself going through the trouble of bleeding into a cup if this were going to research, y’know, for the greater good… The idea of “saving it JUST FOR ME!!!” did not really fit in my head; I guess because, at the moment, I can’t come up with a single use for it – especially since it is all experimental stuff anyway, at this point… and before they can use it to cure anything on me, don’t they have to get some more of these cells and research them, play with them, and see what they can do? Shouldn’t they be offering to PAY me $499 per specimen, so they can do this research?
    Are there actually women dumb enough to fork over that kind of money for something so… non-existent?
    I might consider “collecting” if this were going to research to help find a cure for cancer (now, I hope I’m not crossing the line here, but if you’ll bear with me… how does the collecting actually happen? Do they want me to sit on the toilet, holding that little cup, ALL DAY? For the whole five days? Ladies, am I missing something?), but, otherwise… for cryin’ out loud!
    PS- I second the motions to donate cord blood. Do doctors mention this to mothers-to-be before labor? It might be nice if they did. You know, so we could save lives and stuff.

  • corey

    February 4, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    I love caramama’s point! It does seem like a completely renewable resource.
    Anyhow, I did bank my daughter’s blood. Hopefully there will never be any use for it, but I have some holes in my family medical history so just in case. Donation is a great idea too. I didn’t know that was an option 7 years ago when I did it.

  • barbra

    February 4, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I just want to say that I tried to donate my son’s cord blood, but all the banks in my area were full and had to turn me down. They do not have enough money to store very much. This was in Dec. 2004.
    It killed me that it was thrown away, especially since my friend’s leukemia was in remission (at the time; she has since passed away after a bone marrow transplant did not work).
    It also kills me that these companies are charging people through the roof to store this stuff indefinitely (well as long as they’ll keep paying), but apparently will not donate their storage space which in my experience is in short supply.

  • superblondgirl

    February 6, 2008 at 12:00 am

    That is just too ew for me. I guess I’m squeamish and all Victorian, but for my money, I’ll just die of some weird wasting disease instead of shipping my menstrual blood off to sit in a vault somewhere. I can’t imagine what a nasty building that would be to work in: 4th floor, umbilical cord pieces; 5th floor, used tampons in test tubes….

  • Laura

    February 6, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    One question for them…if we have all this wonderful miracle making stuff inside us…why are so many women getting cancer these days?

  • Aubrey

    February 8, 2008 at 10:06 am

    My expericences with donating were very similar to barbra’s. I had children in 2001, 2003, and 2004 in north central IL and COULD NOT donate it at all. Everything was full and none of the hospitals could get kits. I could purchase a kit (for over $500) and that kit could be “donated” somewhere, but if I was going to pay that kind of money, I’d like to know I’D get it later on if needed.
    As for bleeding in a cup or something, UGH. I thought it was bad enough peeing in a cup every month when I was pregnant. This seems like an exorbitant amount of money to pay to do this. I second the fact that we should be paid to do this. Yuck!
    I’ll wait a bit longer before I jump on this band wagon. I think they should do something like the bone marrow donor lists.

  • mama speak

    February 9, 2008 at 4:20 am

    We stored the cord blood from both our girls. But my husband is in biotech, we have a different view on it than most I guess. He also has a family history of cancers that are currently treatable w/stem cells. And I have fibromyalgia, which I believe is closely related to arthritis and lupus; both of which are probably w/in 10 years of some kind of treatment via stem cells. We banked their cells paying a lump sum for the next 18 years. Yes, it was expensive, but if we hadn’t and there is a time when we need it (in my case, I hope so) I think I would be devastated to know we missed that opportunity.
    I suppose you could say we purchased some HOPE w/those dollars. I think they were worth it.
    On a side note; this monthly red gold of which you speak, I agree w/the ewww and it’s a more or less renewable resource comments. I would want to know they could actually do something w/it and what the benefit of storing it would be vs. the collection when I needed it. I think their marketing department still has their work cut out for them.

  • Jill

    February 12, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Now, see, this is all backwards. I want THEM to pay ME $499 every time I bleed into a cup. They get their special stem cells to experiment on without all the “omgtheyrekillingbabies” fuss of extracting them from embryos, and I get a fat paycheck. Everybody wins!

  • Lauren

    February 16, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I would be happy to donate menstrual blood if it were for research or something, but just to sit in a freezer somewhere? that doesn’t make so much sense to me. Also, a) the accent on the video is so fake and b) as someone else said, that model is far from her “monthly miracle”! The video makes it seem like they spend all your money on graphic design and nothing else. couldn’t we just see some doctor talking and have them charge a tenth as much?

  • Beth

    April 24, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Why is everyone so grossed out with our normal bodily functions. We are programmed from a young age to treat womens’ bodies with disdain and we can’t even teach our young girls about their anatomy without using silly euphemisms. When we treat ourselves this way we only perpetuate the problem. We allow ourselves to be discriminated against and degraded in the media. I see nothing wrong saving menstrual blood if it has the capabilities of saving lives. I saved two of my three girls cord blood as insurance. I was told by a doctor who is one of the smartest people I have ever met, my brother, that it is one of the cheapest insurance plans you will ever find. Stem cells will be used to treat countless ailments in the future and you simply never know.

  • Shannon

    April 24, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Hmmm…I don’t think this is BS at all…nor do I think its gross. I do, however, think that C’Elle (and other biotechnology firms) should be paying the client for further research. Think about this: no more tampons or pads (killing trees), and using an Instead Cup (sold at Target) to collect your monthly sample, then sell it to Biotech firms to prove this research.

  • Priyanka

    July 23, 2008 at 2:34 am

    OMG! It’s funny how people here are so free minded .. I mean their mind is so free, it just gets lost! Before ewwwing, have you even put some thought into how cord blood and menstrual blood banking CAN INFACT be useful! It is quite obvious that most of the people here have ZERO technical knowledge on the issue!! Before critisizing an idea, you need to first make sure you know ALL about it!!
    My cousin, a 2 yr. old Thalessemia major until one year back, is now perfectly alright because the doctors treated her with her baby brother’s stem cells. Is this ewww? Or gross? Or disgusting? No! I think it’s a wonder!!! N too bad for those of you who think it’s not!
    I would typically never have wasted soo much time on commenting on a blog.. but I thought some people out here needed to be *enlightened* and educated on the fact that science IS SAVING LIVES FROM DAYS IMMEMORABLE! There has to be some sense in this whole idea if they’re trying to show it to the world. If you know nothing, you’d rather learn than speak silly !
    Oh and for those smart ones who’re already thinking of a fitting reply/snap to come up with, please don’t waste your time on that! Because, you might be better than me at writing, but you are definitely not even half as knowledgeable on this issue! So first go and explore the possibilities and then harp your thoughts! It’s about time you gave the people behind this idea, their due credit and respect.
    And finally, Alice, I absolutely loved your article and I’m all in for stem cell banking and therapy. I have been, and will continue spreading a word about this to those *less enlightened*.