Viacord is one of the most well known firms in the for-profit cord blood banking industry. Today’s post is a review of the firm.
I see concrete reasons for concern.
What is Viacord?
As a cord blood banking firm, Viacord freezes cord materials for new parents. It was one of the first such banking firms.
It is part of the big biotech PerkinElmer.
In addition to cord blood, the company sells cord tissue banking as well, where they freeze part of the actual umbilical cord or MSCs from inside the wall. I’m not clear to me if it’s just cord wall cells or cord tissue that is frozen.
Viacord also now offers some other very different services as well. I’m skeptical of those.
For instance, it sells newborn (or older children) genetic testing for “digestive health.” There is also marketing of broader DNA screening, and even whole genome sequencing (WGS). It’s true that the public is getting more interested in their genomes, but I’m not sure how useful these specific tests might be. Along those same lines, the company sells tests for adults too like food sensitivity, personalized wellness, and WGS.
Dubious claims including about cord cells for autism
My main concern on Viacord is that they promote the idea that cord cells could help with autism. There is the implication that the cells are regularly used by customers to treat autism or other conditions.
A New York Times article detailed some specific concerns on the cord blood industry including Viacord. From the NYT:
“ViaCord, one of the nation’s largest private banks, states on its website that “special properties of cord blood stem cells” may help those with autism, in part by encouraging their brain cells to repair and by boosting their immune system. As evidence for that claim, they reference a 2017 clinical trial of 25 children with autism who were given cord blood transfusions.”
There is in fact no good evidence that cord blood can help autism.
The study that is cited is from Joanne Kurtzberg’s team at Duke. Their paper reported no benefit of cord blood for autism, but a subset of data was spun as potentially having a glimmer of usefulness. I doubt that is going to be the case. I’ve covered my concerns about the Duke Autism Center efforts before. Duke is partnering with another big player in the cord blood banking industry called Cryo-Cell.
The New York Times also added this:
“Morey Kraus, chief scientific officer at ViaCord, said that he understands that more research on cord blood is needed for use in unapproved conditions, but that even if the research doesn’t pan out, parents will have been glad they had the option of banking and trying it as a therapy.
Not everyone agrees: “The data suggest there might be a little help there, but I find it not at all convincing,” said Dr. Steven Joffe, a pediatric oncologist and bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. The cost of private banking “would be hard to justify at this point,” he said, unless someone in the family has a known blood disorder that might require a stem cell transplant.”
I’m with Dr. Joffe on this.
On its website, Viacord quotes this pricing, “Cord Blood Processing $635 and Cord Blood + Tissue Processing $1075.”
As with other private cord blood banks, the costs can really adds up after years and years. However, few families end up using the banked cord blood.
When I clicked on the pricing tab on their website the image above popped up which suggests a higher-cost package.
This also makes clear that the yearly fee is $350 so, for example, over ten years you’d pay $3,500 in yearly fees.
Overall Viacord review
Looking at the BBB site, the company does not have good profile. The negative reviews and complaints mainly seem to center on how things go down when customers try to cancel as well as billing issues. This is similar to the BBB profile of another main cord banking firm, Cryo Cell.
Viacord’s Yelp reviews are also consistently negative.
Overall, in my view Viacord isn’t providing a consistently positive experience for customers and they may be raising false hope.
More broadly, I’m a strong supporter of public cord blood banks.
I believe for the typical consumer that private banks are almost certainly a waste of money.
See The Niche piece Fact-checking, pros and cons of cord blood banking.
- NY Times article on the cord blood banking industry including Viacord.
- Duke study showing no benefit of cord blood for autism.
- Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation piece. Note that this organization is very pro-private cord blood banks including Cryo Cell and receives yearly funds from Cryo Cell.