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Cut-price IVF for stem cell research egg donors

Mackenna Roberts

Progress Educational Trust

18 September 2007

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[BioNews, London]
Women who donate some of their eggs to stem cell research will receive half-price discounted IVF treatment - a 1,500 stipend reducing the costs of one cycle of IVF treatment from 3,000 - at the Newcastle Fertility Centre. The Medical Research Council has recently awarded 150,000 funding to subsidise the IVF treatment and 760,000 towards research. Donor recruitment for the scheme began last Thursday and targets women in the North-East of England aged 21 to 35. The globally unprecedented 'egg-sharing' scheme is being run by the North-East England Stem Cell Institute (Nesci) in Newcastle, and was approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in July 2006. It received public support following a consultation in January 2007.

It is intended to make the benefits of IVF more accessible to infertile women whilst addressing the shortage of high quality eggs for human stem cell research, thereby assisting scientists to progress in the global race to seek stem cell therapies for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Professor Alison Murdoch, head of the clinic, welcomes the funding to help 'ease the financial burden for those who require IVF' and often require multiple cycles to achieve pregnancy. She emphasises these women are not at any additional medical risk and that this option is being provided only to women who receive counselling and they must undergo the usual high-degree of scrutiny from local and national medical ethics committees.

In general, the IVF procedure results in a surplus of leftover eggs. These eggs would usually be discarded and now can be donated. A previous pilot egg-sharing scheme asked for two eggs if 12 are harvested for IVF, resulting in a total of only 66 eggs over seven months. This programme would significantly increase that number to meet the high demand for fresh eggs required by researchers 'to progress towards improving the efficiency of therapeutic cloning in humans' according to Dr Mary Herbert who will lead the research, and will further our understanding of 'underlying causes of infertility and birth defects'.

The eggs will be used in somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) experiments, so-called therapeutic cloning research, which aims to create human embryonic stem cell lines that are genetically matched to patients. However, some scientists argue that this technique is too imperfect a science at this point - the success rate is significantly less than 0.5 per cent and so involves using a high, inefficient number of eggs.

Josephine Quintavalle, from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, declared it 'lunacy' and exploitation of vulnerable, infertile women. The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics (SCHB) considers the move to be 'scandalous'. Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research at the SCHB, added, 'No rich person would even consider this kind of arrangement'.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 18 September 2007   Date Updated: 18 September 2007
Customer Reviews (1)
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michelle mcsharry   27 September 2007

I have recently had a baby through caeseran section and had to be sterilised. Previously i had an ectopic pregnancy, which resulted in my tube being removed. My only option now for another baby is reversal or IVF. The article interested me enough to continue reading. I agree that the left over eggs from IVF would be of more use if they were kept rather than destroyed, if they can be of help to research then what harm is there.

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