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HFEA considering egg donation for cloning research

17 February 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 346

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology and Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment and embryo research in the UK, is considering allowing altruistic egg donation for therapeutic cloning research. According to a report in the Times newspaper, the authority may soon approve new rules that will allow women to donate eggs for research aimed at obtaining stem cell from cloned human embryos. However, according to a statement on the HFEA's website, it is first awaiting more information on protection and finance issues before it agrees upon a new policy on gamete donors for research.

The issues surrounding egg donation for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research have been in the news recently, following the revelation that South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang and his team used unethical procedures to obtain eggs for their cloning research - work that has since been shown to be faked. Scientists around the world, including teams in the UK and US, are still hoping to show that it is possible to obtain ES cell-lines from cloned human embryos. However, there is a shortage of eggs for such research, which in the UK can currently only be obtained from women undergoing fertility treatment.

The HFEA has received requests from scientists based in Edinburgh and Newcastle to allow them to ask women to donate eggs solely for stem cell research - so-called 'altruistic' egg donation. They feel it is the best way to allow such work to continue, especially since it would potentially permit scientists to use eggs from younger, fertile donors. But opponents of such a move say that the risks associated with egg donation mean it is unethical to ask women to undergo the procedure unless they are already undergoing fertility treatment.

The Times reported that the HFEA's ethics and law committee has recommended allowing altruistic egg donation, in a document published ahead of an open meeting held on 14 February. The committee said that permitting women to donate their eggs could benefit research, and would enable the donor to feel they had made a positive contribution. However, it also recommended that women should only be allowed to donate if they had completed their families - in case their fertility was affected in any way. It also proposed barring scientists from donating eggs for their own research projects, although it said their friends and family members should be permitted to do so, after receiving counselling to ensure they were acting voluntarily.

Josephine Quintavalle, of the pro-life pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE), told the newspaper that it was 'extraordinary' to 'find the HFEA endorsing donation at a time when scientists are at last acknowledging the significant risks associated with the process'. However, ethicist Ainsley Newson, of the University of Bristol, commented that 'so long as women are made fully aware of [the proposed new rules] and are not put under duress, they should have every opportunity to participate'.

The HFEA says that it has now asked for more information on the issue, which it will use to put together a discussion document ahead of its next public meeting, to be held in May. Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the HFEA, said: 'We are committed to maintaining a broad consensus on embryo research and it is important that we strike a balance between providing safeguards for patients and the interests of scientists'.

Authority ask for more information on protection and finance before agreeing a new policy for donors for research
HFEA |  15 February 2006
Cloning research egg donor plan
BBC News Online |  14 February 2006
Donor breakthrough for cloning research
The Times |  14 February 2006
7 January 2007 - by Heidi Nicholl 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has, for the first time, amended a licence for stem cell research to be carried out, which allows women to donate eggs without needing the donation to be linked to ongoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or sterilisation procedures. The...
21 September 2006 - by Veronica English 
The British Medical Association (BMA)'s Medical Ethics Committee (MEC) recently had a long and fascinating debate about egg donation for research. The debate was much broader than the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)'s consultation document, looking also at related issues such as payment for donation of other...
11 September 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a public consultation on the donation of eggs for scientific research purposes. The consultation was announced in May after discussions at an HFEA public meeting failed to reach a conclusion on the issue. It will run...
14 August 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
A leading bioethicist, Dr Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, US, has called for women to be paid to donate eggs for stem cell research on the same basis that research participants are compensated for taking part in other medical research. In a Nature commentary...
31 July 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
A controversial scheme to extend the practise of 'egg sharing' has been approved by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to provide greater numbers of eggs for embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The practise of egg-sharing is currently allowed where a woman may receive discounted...
13 February 2006 - by BioNews 
Seoul National University (SNU) has suspended the discredited South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang and six other professors in his team from their teaching and research posts. The scientists have yet to be formally punished by SNU, for faking data and breaching ethical standards in their work on human embryonic...
13 January 2006 - by BioNews 
UK researchers are seeking permission to use rabbit eggs to create human stem cells for studying motor neurone disease. Professor Chris Shaw, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Professor Ian Wilmut, who led the Edinburgh University team that created Dolly the sheep, are discussing their planned experiments with...
9 January 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
For those aiming to develop new, stem-cell based therapies for conditions such as spinal cord injury and diabetes, 2005 will be remembered as the year in which hopes were first raised beyond everyone's expectations - only to be dashed, when apparently groundbreaking research was revealed to be an audacious hoax. The...
28 July 2005 - by BioNews 
Professor Ian Wilmut, the pioneering creator of Dolly the sheep, is seeking permission from the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to ask women to donate eggs for cloning experiments in his work on motor neurone disease. Professor Wilmut, who was granted a cloning licence by the HFEA in...
4 July 2005 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
In this week's BioNews, we report on the case of a woman set to receive damages after she had a stroke following IVF. The patient, left brain-damaged, had developed a rare side effect of fertility treatment called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). In its most severe form, OHSS can be potentially...
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