Blood, cells bring quick cash
Jessica Warden
Staff Writer

With the cost of tuition climbing each year, it is no big shocker that college students are finding extreme alternatives to earn extra cash.

From cancer studies to sperm donation, doctors and researchers are seeking out the young and fertile as the prime candidates for their experiments and practices.

“Hey, if its for a good cause, why not, some women might need my help fertilizing their seeds,” said Nicholas Garcia, a sophomore business major at the University of La Verne, when asked if he would consider taking part in practices such as becoming a sperm donor. “

College students like Garcia, are often more than willing to oblige because this type of work has the potential to save lives and/or create life – not to mention the fact that students are usually generously compensated.

“I would do it again if I had the opportunity,” Beatriz Cruz said.

Two years ago, while completing her bachelors degree at Cal Poly Pomona, Cruz participated in a clinical nutrition study for that university.

Researchers were interested in finding out if participants carried a gene that could determine their metabolic rate.

For 14 weeks Cruz was put on a daily 1,800-2,000 calorie diet. All her meals were pre prepared for her. She described her meals as “home cooked,” basic dishes like tuna casserole and enchiladas.

“I saved a lot of extra money from not eating out,” Cruz said.

However, she said that sticking to the diet became difficult during the holidays.

In addition to the fixed diet, Cruz was also expected to give blood and a 24-hour urine samples once a week, which required her to keep and store all the urine she produced within a 24-hour period. To make life a little easier, or more embarrassing depending on how you look at it, Cruz toted around a large urine-filled cooler.

At the end of the 14 weeks, Cruz’s results came back inconclusive, but she received school credits and a reasonable $1,400 for participating in the study.

While Cruz took part in the crusade for a healthier lifestyle, Juan Aguila, a senior public affairs major from ULV, donated his time in the fight against cancer. Aguila participated in a T-cell study for Dr. Laurence Copper a physician at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte.

Aguila learned of the study through his girlfriend’s mother, a pediatric oncology nurse.

Before he could take part in the study, Aguila underwent extensive blood testing to rule out any contagious diseases he could potentially be carrying.

For three hours Aguila’s T-cells were collected through a process called apheresis. This involves having a large bore intravenous needle inserted into each arm. Blood is withdrawn from one arm, passed through a machine that draws off the T-cells. The blood minus the T-cells is then returned to the donor via the other arm.

“For the most part the pain was minimal,” Aguila said. “But I was a little light headed after the procedure.”

The T-cells are then infused with lab manufactured DNA by electropronation making them protein specific for certain types of tumor cells. This research holds great hope for curing certain cancers.
At the end of the study, Aguila was given a check for $150.

“The money helped with a few expenses but the bulk of it went to my trip to Vegas,” Aguila said.

T-cell research and nutritional studies seem rather conservative in comparison to the growing number of young men in college who are donating their sperm.

To find out why and to fully appreciate the donation process I met with Marlow Jacob, a marketing assistant for the California Cryobank in Los Angeles. Jacob was kind enough to answer all my questions and showed me the facility.

CCB has been in business since 1977 and is known worldwide as one of the leading reproductive tissue facilities. Their primary clientele is couples with fertility problems, lesbian couples and single women. In addition to their Los Angeles office, CCB has branches in Palo Alto, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The CCB building is surprisingly small and has no hanging signs indicating the nature of what goes on there.

Men interested in becoming donors can call CCB directly and speak with the donor coordinator, who will ask applicants for their height, weight, age, ethnicity, whether or not his parents were adopted and his educational background including SAT scores.

Donors have to be between the ages of 19 and 39 and must have attended or be currently enrolled in a four-year university. CCB donors are recruited from such Ivy League schools as UCLA, USC, Stanford, Harvard and MIT because most recipients of the sperm believe that a donor from higher education will more than likely produce intelligent offspring.

During the qualification process, potential donors undergo numerous screening tests including semen analysis, cystic fibrosis carrier screening, chromosome analysis and a complete blood count. If any results appear abnormal or test positive, the applicant will be disqualified.

Once the applicant has been accepted into the donor program, he is tested for all sexually transmitted infections and every three months thereafter. Donors are expected to provide a semen specimen three times a week and are required to commit to the program for a minimum of one year. On average, donors can earn up to $900 monthly.

Donor specimens are stored and tested for motility in the CCB lab. To avoid any possible mix-ups each vial of semen is color coded and labeled with the donor’s identification number. In addition, a biometric identification device takes a three dimensional measurement of the donors hand to match the donor with his specimens.

There is no expiration date on how long the sperm can be stored. This is great for men preparing to undergo vasectomies, and cancer patients facing Chemotherapy, who can store their sperm for later use. CCB has also just started their embryo storage program.

“It is really touching,” Jacob said. “We have teenagers and kids coming in that have cancer and are going through Chemotherapy. We can offer our services, so that in the long run they are not left where they will never be able to have kids.”

After visiting the CCB lab, I have a newfound respect and appreciation for sperm. It is incredible to see a specimen under a microscope because one tiny drop of semen can contain millions of sperm.

Then there are the recipients of the sperm, who all have the same hope, a happy healthy baby.

Through CCB, recipients are able to look through a catalog containing a list of basic information and characteristics of each donor like eye color, hair texture and skin tone. Donors come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, holding a wide variety of occupations and academic studies.

The catalogue also indicates whether or not a donor has had a pregnancy report. This is fascinating because the sperm of a single donor can be purchased by up to 30 different women. Thirty is the maximum number of women because CCB believes any more than that could create an incest problem within society. Incest is usually the biggest initial concern for CCB clients

“I doubt that happens very often,” said Garcia.

Garcia explains that if he did become a sperm donor, he would not worry about the incest issue, at least not that far in advance

The catalogue features over 175 donors and is available in printed and on-line versions. CCB suggests choosing a few donors because inventory changes daily and donor specimens are offered on a first come, first served basis. Recipients can also view a profile on the donor’s medical and genetic history and may purchase baby photos of the donor. As If that wasn’t enough, for a small fee clients can listen to audio interviews recorded by the perspective donor, to get a better idea on how the offspring’s voice might sound.

CCB realizes that a catalog may not be the easiest way to select a donor and since physical likeness of the offspring is so important for many of their clients they can provide a donor matching consultant. The consultant can take a photo submitted by the client and find a donor with similar physical characteristics.

When the client is finally ready to purchase sperm from the donor of their choice, they must chose between two types of specimens, a standard donor specimen prepared for an intracervical insemination (ICI) at $298 per vial or a pre-washed donor specimen for intrauterine insemination (IUI) at $355 per vial.

The (ICI) is where the sperm is placed at the cervical opening and requires a 15 million seamen count to perform. For the (IUI), the sperm is instilled directly into the uterus and calls for a 10 million seamen count.

Since this kind of reproductive technology has become so progressive, CCB can guarantee, at the client’s wishes, that the baby will be a boy. Unfortunately, they cannot promise the client a girl.

The sperm is then shipped to either the recipient’s home or medical facility in liquid nitrogen “dry” shippers, which look a lot like oxygen tanks. The “dry” shippers are designed to safeguard the appropriate temperature for the sperm’s survival for up to 7 days from the date of shipment. Shipping is not free, but CCB does ships to 30 countries worldwide.

While the identities of the donors are kept anonymous, at the request of the offspring, the donor can decide to contact the child once he or she reaches the age of 18.

Maria Villalpando, a first year international business and language major, wouldn’t be thrilled if her partner decided to donate his sperm.

“I wouldn’t be too happy, but it is up to him,” said Villalpando, who admitted that she would consider donating her eggsif she was in dire need of some cash.

Brenna Lampson, a junior philosophy major, had been thinking about donating eggs for some time. With no plans of having children of her own, Lampson saw donating eggs as a way help others who have trouble conceiving and earn a quick buck at the same time.

Eventually Lamspon was led to Egg Donation Inc., but after calling their facility she found that EDI was not forth coming with information. She then decided to visit the EDI website and it was there that she filled out the donor application.

“I wanted to actually fill out the application to figure out what more they wanted from me and as I fill out the application they did start giving me more answers,” Lampson said.

Before EDI applicants can begin the egg donation process, they must fill out a lengthy application providing information such as their medical history, physical attributes, educational background and SAT scores, reasons for wanting to participate and even their philosophy on life.

Lampson was surprised at how meticulous the questions were.

“They wanted to know the tiniest details, like what my mom’s eye color was, what her weight was, what her height was, what my grandmothers weight and height was, blood types, everything,” said Lampson.

Some of the more bizarre questions included, do you sleep with stuffed animals and do you kiss with your eyes closed.

Once the EDI application is submitted and the applicant is accepted preliminarily into the egg donor program, she will be medically and psychologically screened. If the results of these tests do not reveal any disqualifying problems, she will then be referred to a psychologist and medical doctor who will evaluate her psychological and medical suitability.

If the applicant succesfully completes her medical examination she is accepted into the donor program, entered into the donor database and is eligible to be matched with a recipient.

When the recipient selects a donor, EDI supplies that egg donor with general non-identifying information about the recipient, this way the donor can decide whether or not she wishes to proceed. If the donor has no objections, she will receive a contract from the recipient's attorney and be required to schedule an independent legal consultation with her own hired attorney.

The average egg donation cycle lasts between 3 to 5 weeks beginning with injections of Lupron. Lupron is used to suppress the egg donor’s natural menstrual cycle and synchronize her cycle with that of the recipients’. Once cycle’s are harmonized, the donor will receive daily injections of Gonal-f, Fertinex or Follistim to stimulate her ovaries.

Upon reaching the egg retrieval, ultrasound examinations and blood tests are performed to monitor how the donors body is responding to treatment.

When the donor’s follicles (the part of the ovary that holds the eggs) are sufficiently mature, she will be given an injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Roughly 36 hours after receiving this injection, the donor will undergo the egg retrieval under mild sedation. Doctors can retrieve between one and 30 eggs. The recipient usually receives 4-5 donor eggs at a time to better ensure a pregnancy. Since the procedure is relatively non-invasive, the donor can go home shortly after.

Lampson explains that it wasn’t the drugs themselves, or how and in what form she would be forced to take them, it was the potential associated health risks that became the deciding factor. After doing research on www.webmd.com and talking to her ULV physician about these drugs, she chose not to donate her eggs.

Lampson found out that Lupron, Gonal-f, and Fertinex are simply fertility drugs. They contain very strong hormones, and if taken for extended periods of time, five months of longer, can increase a woman’s chances of having a miscarriage up to 30 to 40 percent.

“That was really concerning to me,” Lampson said. “What if I do change my mind and decide that I actually want to have a kid. I don’t know what my chances of having a miscarriage are (up to this point), and with the increased risk of having a miscarriage with these drugs, I could be in a really high risk situation.”

As well as miscarriages these drugs can also boost a women’s chances of having multiple births and this usually tends to be the case for the recipient of the eggs because they are placed on the same drugs as the donor.

Typically a donor is paid anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for their participation. Also, depending on the donor’s level of education, unique skills or character traits, additional compensation is offered. But it is the return donors who stand to profit the most. As an incentive, return donors can earn up to $25,000.

I think a lot of young people are in my same position where there trying to make ends meet when their going to college and they don’t always have the option of getting financial aid or scholarships and this might be a way to do it,” Lampson said “But when I thought about the risks I decided, these risks are to great for me, I can find other means, and I will do that.”

Jessica Warden can be reached at jesselw@verizon.net


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Posted April 29, 2005
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