Women who are desperatly trying to get pregnant, but who cannot afford to pay $5,000 – $6,000 for in vitro fertilization may be offered lower IVF fees in exchange for donation of some of their oocytes for research in the UK. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority approved the trades for one lab last July, but are now seeking public comment, according to an Associated Press article.
The limiting factor for embryonic stem cell research has never been the restrictions placed on US Federal funding. The problem is obtaining eggs from women.
So far, the track record for altruistic donations is mixed. On one hand, hundreds of women volunteered to donate eggs in South Korea for research by the now-disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who fraudulently claimed success in therapeutic cloning.
But Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of research and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology Inc. of Alameda, Calif., said he has given up trying to get donations without compensation. After more than a year of pursuing that strategy and about 100 advertisements, ACT was able to get only one woman to donate eggs, he said in an e-mail.
And Kevin Eggan of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who’s been seeking eggs since May in return for reimbursing out-of-pocket expenses, said recently that the effort had generated some calls but no donors yet. The approach must be given more time to work, he said.
Murdoch, who also directs a fertility treatment center in Newcastle upon Tyne, said that when her lab asked fertility-clinic patients to donate eggs, it received only 66 over seven months. That’s just not enough, she said.
In contrast, if her new plan attracts two women a week — chosen because they appear likely to produce lots of eggs — it would provide 20 eggs each week. That’s still not a lot, but the supply should be steady, she said.
Her “egg-sharing” plan resembles an arrangement that’s used occasionally at fertility clinics. In that plan, a woman shares her eggs and treatment costs with another woman who wants a baby.
Murdoch’s group has permission from Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to set up the arrangement for stem cell research. Now it’s a question of raising money to finance it. Murdoch said she hopes to start offering the deal to British women in a few months, and that she has already heard from dozens of women eager to participate.
Though the HFEA approved Murdoch’s plans in July, it has since started gathering public and expert opinions on whether egg sharing should be permitted. “If the consensus is that this is not a good idea, we can change the policy, and rescind the license,” said John Paul Maytum, an HFEA spokesman.