TISSUE BANKS: Companies Look Overseas to Expand Market
Tissue banks are eyeing overseas markets to peddle body parts donated in the United States, noting a "rich potential in Europe and Asia," the Orange County Register reports. Considered a niche business in the United States 10 years ago, selling body parts has grown into a $500 million industry, and tissue banks believe that the global market is waiting to be tapped. Already, not-for-profit eye banks export nearly one-third of the corneas contributed by Americans. Bone processor Osteotech Inc. has estimated the potential of the nondomestic bone graft market to be "at least as large as that of the U.S. market." In addition to bone grafts, companies also sell powdered bone for use in dentistry and spinal fusion as well as skin products used in cosmetic surgery and burn treatments. Corneas are America's largest human tissue export. During the 1990s, the number of exported corneas nearly quintupled. Last year, 12,700 corneas were shipped abroad, according to statistics from the Eye Bank Association of America. Still, companies must overcome the "resistance to the commercialization of human tissue," both in the United States and abroad. "A lot of these European countries like France and Spain have very strong rules about importing tissue," industry expert Michael Ehrenreich said. "There's a general feeling of tissue banking as a community resource," he added, noting that the same sentiment is shared by many Americans. Often companies promote tissue donation as a gift to the community, failing to inform donors that the products are sold nationally and internationally. "Tissue banks should tell each donor that they will try to use the donated tissue locally but may use it elsewhere," University of Pennsylvania ethicist Arthur Kaplan said, adding, "What starts as a gift ends as a product" (Campbell, 5/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.