Signals Blog

by Peter Raaymakers, Stem Cell Network

Wordstream-CPC-v9c--660x1413 copy They’ve become ubiquitous in Web browsing, but those little text-based ads you see everywhere from the biggest newspaper to the smallest blog are called Google AdWords, and they’re big business in just about every industry—including stem cells and regenerative medicine.

A recent report in Wired published some of the top Google AdWords keyword categories and, perhaps unsurprisingly, stem cells were on the list. Most directly related to the field was the twentieth-most-expensive keyword category, “cord blood.”

People who buy “cord blood” AdWords, according to the article, typically pay $27.80 per click, which seems like a lot considering how often we click our computer mice in a given day, but given the potential payoff of a lifetime of cord blood subscriber fees, it’s easy to see why the cost works for them.

The reason advertisers are so interested in people searching “cord blood,” according to marketing guru Larry Kim of WordStream, as referenced in the Wired article, is that businesses look for long-term customers when spending money on Google AdWords.

Once you’ve paid the up front costs of cord blood banking, there is incentive to keep paying the annual storage fees – either that or lose your cord blood sample. For the storage bank, this quickly adds up to thousands of dollars for every sample it stores. As the article states:

Again — an industry that can make lots of money from a customer over a long period of time — making it not unwise to pay $27 per click, even if only one out of 50 of those who click on the ad actually signs up for your service.

The Stem Cell Network has published its own position on cord blood banking. In this statement, SCN recognizes the demonstrated ability of cord blood to treat certain hematological conditions and encourages the establishment of public cord blood collections – a recommendation that was realized this past March when Canada’s Provincial and Territorial ministers (Quebec notwithstanding) announced the establishment of a Canadian Public Cord Blood Bank. Canadian Blood Services will manage the bank, and it is planned that the collection will be of sufficient size to ensure appropriate matches are available for all Canadians.

In addition, it is the position of the Stem Cell Network that there is insufficient evidence to recommend [private] cord blood collection and storage for later personal or family use in the absence of a defined medical risk (e.g. a sibling or other family member with a genetic or malignant condition that could potentially benefit from a cord blood).

Of course, deciding between private and public banking remains a matter of individual choice for parents; however, it is clear that standards amongst private cord blood banks vary enormously, and prospective customers should pay careful attention to ensure the private banks they are considering are accredited by recognized industry organizations such as AABB. ( More information can be found in this series of videos from the 2010 StemCellTalks event in Toronto.

Also in the top 20 most expensive AdWords keywords are “rehab” ($33.59 per click, 18th overall) and “treatment” ($37.18 per click, 19th overall), indicating the amount of consumer interest in health care options. In the stem cell field, both “cord blood” and “treatment” are very relevant terms. So, what ads do you get when you search for stem cell treatment? The eight returns on our search included: two stem cell clinics (one in India, one in Russia), four clinics offering cosmetic procedures, one GMP facility/ stem cell bank and one cord blood bank.

The stem cell industry is rapidly becoming a big business, and one reason for that is the promise of what might be possible in the future. In such a climate, misinformation abounds, a situation that many rogue clinics take full advantage of. Some of that misinformation comes from the media, which has been found to portray stem cell tourism largely in a positive tone –- this can drive people to search on the Internet, where they’re exposed to advertisements claiming therapies that, in most cases, simply aren’t backed up by peer-reviewed science or approved clinical trials. There are resources out there to help filter the founded from the unfounded, and, sometimes, controversial clinics are closed down, while others find new ways to market their services to increasingly savvy patients, or simply open shop in a new city or under a new name.

With so much money to be made, we will likely see more of these advertisements online as time goes on. It just underlines the need for patients to be wary of claims that seem too good to be true, because—more often than not—they are.


Image excerpted from Wired online. 

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