Business is brisk these days at BioLife Plasma Services in Lakeland. Same goes for Georgia-based Xytex Sperm Bank, where more people are inquiring about becoming donors. And on the Web site TheHairTrader.com, the number of ads from people selling their locks has — shall we say — grown.
In yet another sign of tough economic times, more people are turning to their own bodies for help. Plasma donors can make $50 a week. Sperm donors earn about $100 per sample. And 37 inches of thick, dark blond hair with red highlights recently fetched $2,600.
"You're seeing people saying, 'I'm on hard times. I'm in need of money,.' "says Jacalyn Elise, who created TheHairTrader.com.
To be sure, there are things you can't sell — your kidneys, for instance. Selling organs is against the law. Many donor programs also involve intensive screening, year-long commitments, as well as some risks. And many medical professionals frown upon people who donate for less-than-altruistic reasons.
"We're not interested in someone who's looking to just get some money," said Cindy Phillips, of Tampa-based Reproductive Medicine Group in Tampa, which compensates egg donors $3,000 at the completion of a cycle.
While Phillips said the medical practice has not seen an increase in donors, it has had an increase in the number of inquiries.
TheHairTrader.com, of Murrieta, Calif., is among a number of Web sites that helps people sell their hair. Site founder Jacalyn Elise says hair is sold for $150 and up, depending on length, thickness and supply and demand. Purchased hair is used primarily for wigs and extensions, but there's also a market with Victorian art and antique dolls that use human hair. Interest is booming. The site drew about 1,000 free ads in its first year in 2006. Now, there are more than 8,000.
"There's always a great demand for plasma," says BioLife center technician Laticia Smart, of the pale yellow liquid portion of your blood. Prospective donors, who must be 18 years old and up and weigh at least 110 pounds, are screened and their blood and plasma tested. Once screened, donors at BioLife in Lakeland can make a minimum of $50 for twice-weekly visits, or the standard $20 per donation. "With the economy the way it is, more people are coming in," Smart said. "About 120 to -130 donors a day."
Prospective sperm donors undergo a thorough screening process that can include a comprehensive medical profile, specimen screening, and a family and individual personal profile that asks for information such as height, weight, education, languages spoken and other special skills. Those who pass screening are then asked to make a commitment of six months to a year, during which they are paid per sample. Xytex, which operates in the Augusta and Atlanta areas, pays donors $100 per sample, or $65 if they wish to remain anonymous. Donors can visit as often as three times a week. But you have to be willing to travel; fertility doctors say there are no donation clinics locally.
Tampa-based Reproductive Medicine Group looks for potential egg donors who are between the ages of 20 and 32, are of any race, have a body mass index (BMI) no higher than 31, are non-smokers, high school graduates, have clean family medical histories and no medical problems. Prospective donors are also thoroughly screened. Phillips, the special services coordinator, says egg donation is a 4- to 6-month process that also involves 3 1/2 to 4 weeks of hormone injections. That commitment usually weeds out people who would just be doing it for the money, she said.
Every year, many Americans lend their bodies to science through clinical trials, which are health-related research studies. While most participate in trials to gain access to new research treatments, or to obtain expert medical care, some volunteer to make extra money. One study on an intervention for problem drinking, for example, paid participants $40. The National Institutes of Health maintains a database of more than 70,000 clinical trials on the Web site clinicaltrials.gov. The site makes clear there are risks, including "life-threatening side effects to experimental treatment." And the NIH discourages participation in trials for economic pressures, which constitutes a conflict of interest, said Don Robusky, an NIH spokesman.
CLINICAL TRIALS FOR PETS
Tampa-based Florida Veterinary Specialists occasionally recruits pets for clinical trials. "Sometimes a pharmaceutical company will approach us for a study," said spokeswoman Tajiana Ancora-Brown. Each trial has different criteria for participants, and some pay between $250 and $500, depending on the level of funding the center receives. As to how often the center conducts clinical trials on pets? That depends, Ancora-Brown said. There have been times when the center has had four trials running simultaneously; at other points, months pass the center goes months between trials.