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July 6, 2011

Genomics News
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» Non-invasive embryo gene screen

According to BBC News Health Fertility doctors say they have found a non-invasive way to screen IVF embryos for genetic abnormalities. The current method involves taking cells from the embryo itself, which experts fear may be harmful. Now UK researchers … Continue reading

March 15, 2010

Genomics News
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» IVF doctors to raffle human egg

The Sunday Times

Lois Rogers reports that a FERTILITY clinic is raffling a human egg in London to promote its new “baby profiling” service, which circumvents British IVF (in vitro fertilisation) laws.

The winner will be able to pick the egg donor by racial background, upbringing and education. Payment for profit is illegal in Britain, but the £13,000 of free IVF treatment will be provided in America.

The raffle, to be held on Wednesday, is to promote a tie-up between the Bridge Centre, a fertility clinic in London, and the Genetics and IVF Institute (GIVF) in Fairfax, Virginia.

The Anglo-American commercial venture was set up last autumn and is aimed principally at women in their forties and fifties who have little prospect of a successful pregnancy with fertility treatment using their own eggs. A handful of women from Britain have so far been treated, with 10 more booked in over the next three months. The clinic expects this number to rise to 25 or more a month and says it achieves “take-home babies” for about 60% of clients.

The eggs are provided by American donors aged between 19 and 32, all of whom are university students or graduates. Overweight women or smokers are not accepted onto the donation programme Before picking a donor, the British women scan detailed anonymised profiles, including the donors’ motives for selling. The profiles include recordings of the women talking about their attitudes, as well as pictures taken of them in their childhood. They only provide an up-to-date photo if they enter serious negotiations.

Women egg donors in America can make $10,000 (£6,600) a time if they are well educated and with desirable physical characteristics. The sale of their eggs was condemned yesterday by Josephine Quintavalle, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, a pressure group, who said the infertility market had plumbed new depths.

“In no other branch of medicine would the ruthless exploitation of the vulnerable be tolerated. These women selling their eggs are taking a huge risk with their health and future fertility simply because they need the money.”

In Britain, donors have to agree to be identified and contacted by any resulting offspring when they reach the age of 18.

Payments are restricted to a maximum fee of £250 for expenses, and as a result donors are in extremely short supply.

One of the first Britons to use the US service is Celia, a 38-year-old married businesswoman from the Midlands, who received two donor eggs in America at Christmas. Last week the prospective mother underwent a three-month scan that confirmed the twin pregnancy, which has cost her a total of £13,000, is progressing normally.

Her donor was a 27-year-old, whose eggs have produced four babies and three pregnancies, including Celia’s twins.

“I wanted someone who looked a bit like me as an adult, but the main consideration was the quality of her eggs,” said Celia. “This woman produces 30 at a time, and they were split between me and another woman, otherwise the cost of donation would have been double the £9,000 we actually paid.”

“I don’t want anyone to know these babies are not mine. Not my family or any of my friends. We don’t intend to tell the children, either.”

The lure of payment means there is no shortage of would-be egg donors in America. GIVF receives up to 500 applications a month, but only about five will pass the two-month screening programme.

“Although it is anonymous, they get asked a lot of questions. We want them to understand this is something bigger than a process with a cheque at the end of it,” said Jennifer Machovina, its donor egg programme co-ordinator.

“We have about 200 donors on our books and they cover a big range of ethnicities and backgrounds, so people have more chance of getting a donor who looks like them.”

In Britain, only 956 of the 36,861 women who had IVF in 2007 received donor eggs. Half of those were egg sharers and of the remainder many were friends or relatives of the women being treated.

The number of donors is boosted by an arrangement whereby women receive free treatment if they agree to share their eggs with another patient who has no useable eggs at all. The drawback is that anyone undergoing fertility treatment necessarily has inferior eggs, so the chances of pregnancy for both women is relatively poor.

Egg donation is a protracted and painful process that requires treatment with potentially dangerous drugs. A donor has to undergo a course of treatment aimed at stimulating her ovaries to produce a dozen or more eggs in one menstrual cycle, instead of the single ripe egg released every month in natural conditions.

Bridge Centre staff admit they were bemused by the GIVF free egg offer from America. “They are much more market-driven than we are, and they do have some rather more creative techniques,” said Michael Summers, a senior consultant in reproductive medicine at the Bridge.

He believes a relaxation of restrictions on payment for egg donors in Britain will depend on the results of the next election. If the ban stays in place, he predicts infertility tourism to America will grow steadily.

October 20, 2009

Genomics News
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» Egg screening 'ups IVF success'

BBC News

A screening technique can double the chance of IVF success, giving hope to tens of thousands of women struggling to have children, say experts.

Doctors at an annual US fertility meeting heard for the second year running of the merits of a test that screens embryos for genetic faults. So far more than 20 babies have been born using the technique.

The UK researchers say they are now able to back the method with “great confidence”. They hope it will eventually be available to all. Currently, it is offered in a few private UK clinics.

Doctors believe the £2,000 test, called comparative genomic hybridisation or CGH, will be particularly useful to older women, whose embryos have a greater risk of carrying genetic errors that cause conditions like Down’s syndrome.


Full story can be found at Egg screening ‘ups IVF success’

August 28, 2009

Genomics News
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» Genetic advance raises IVF hopes

Researchers have found a potential way to correct an inherited disorder affecting thousands of women the BBC health news webpages report this week.

Working on monkeys, they transferred genetic material needed to create a baby from a defective egg to a healthy one, resulting in healthy births. The US work, featured in the journal Nature, raises hopes of a treatment enabling women with defective eggs to have a child without using donor eggs. However, the child would have a small number of genes from a “third parent”. The treatment would involve so-called “germ line” genetic changes which would be passed down through generations. The genetic fault is contained in structures in the egg called the mitochondria, which are involved in maintaining the egg’s internal processes. If an egg with faulty mitochondria is fertilised the resulting child could have any of hundreds of different diseases including anaemia, dementia, hypertension and a range of neurological disorders.

US researchers have previously tried and failed to correct this defect by adding healthy donated mitochondria into the eggs of patients wishing to have children. But these attempts resulted in birth defects – probably because mitochondria are so delicate that they are damaged when they are transplanted from one egg to another. As a result, the treatment was banned by the US until it could be demonstrated that it was safe in animal experiments. A group at the Oregon Health and Science University has now done just that. They transferred the DNA needed to make a baby out of monkey eggs, leaving behind the potentially diseased genes in the mitochondria. This was transplanted it into eggs emptied of DNA but containing healthy mitochondria. The technique resulted in three healthy births with no sign of any birth defects.

Whilst these findings have the potential to benefit many women with pathogenic mitochondrial DNA mutations, they will undoubtedly raise many ethical issues, particularly surrounding egg manipulation

In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has licensed a number of tightly-controlled research projects into mitochondrial diseases. But Parliament would have to change the law to allow the technique to be used on patients.