The UK's first dedicated egg bank for fertility treatment has been launched in London.
The London Egg Bank, part of a group of companies that includes the London Sperm Bank, the London Women's Clinic (LWC) and the Bridge Centre, will allow women to donate their eggs to others undergoing fertility treatment, as well as the option to store their own eggs for medical or social reasons.
Dr Kamal Ahuja, director of the London Women's Clinic, said the egg bank will meet the growing demand for egg donors in the UK. 'We can't ignore the needs of millions of women who need donor eggs, especially women over 40', he told the London Evening Standard.
There is a short supply of eggs in the UK, with many women who require them taking advantage of egg sharing schemes or arranging to receive a donation from a known person, such as a family friend or relative. The London Egg Bank will receive donations provided anonymously, so that the recipient will not be told identifying information about the donor, but any children conceived as a result of the egg donation can by law apply for identifying information about their donor once they become 18.
Outright payment for donations is not permitted under UK law, but compensation for expenses and inconvenience is permitted. Egg donors are entitled to receive up to £750 per cycle of donation in compensation, with the added option of claiming an excess to cover costs such as travel or childcare.
Some concerns have been raised with regard to the potential for egg banking schemes to exploit young, financially vulnerable women. Josephine Quintavalle, of campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: 'With money so scarce at the moment one can imagine vulnerable young women considering this a useful way to make ends meet'.
However, Dr Ahuja said many egg donors choose to donate as an act of altruism. 'Many donors have children of their own and are in settled family relationships. They are keen to donate their eggs, but have never been encouraged to do so. We are hoping to inform women about egg donation and to make it simpler', he said.
Research presented at this year's annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology found that while financial motivation was an important factor expressed by some egg donors, a majority of women indicated that they had donated for altruistic reasons (reported in BioNews 713).
The official launch on the London Egg Bank follows a trial period which has been running since January 2013. The egg bank will function in a similar way to sperm banks, providing a wide range of donors for patients to choose from. The egg bank will initially use 'fresh' eggs, with the intention of building up a supply of cryopreserved eggs to provide greater flexibility for patients, reports the Evening Standard.
The bank will also provide egg storage services for women who are not ready to start a family but plan to at a later stage. Figures show that an increasing number of women are having children in later life, but there is also a greater rate of age-related infertility among older mothers, largely because of a decline in egg quality (reported in BioNews 722). A press statement from the London Egg Bank states that the success rate for a woman aged 43 having IVF with a donor egg is significantly higher than if they use their own eggs.
The London Egg Bank says it will be running introduction evenings for potential donors and recipients in the Autumn.