Sunday, November 23, 2008

CIRM No-Pay Egg Rules: A 'Stem Cell Debacle'?

A front page article Sunday in the leading newspaper in one of California's stem cell hot spots says that the state laws aimed at boosting embryonic stem cell research are also hobbling it by "creating a shortage of human eggs."

The article was written by Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune, who follows stem cell business and research issues more closely than any other reporter in the state.

The crux of the problem, she reported, is that Prop. 71 bans paying women for their eggs, creating what some believe to be a shortage.

Somers wrote,
"'This is what I call the great stem cell debacle, and it's ridiculous,' said Dr. Samuel Wood(see photo), who founded Stemagen, a San Diego biotechnology company that is trying to create human embryonic stem cells through therapeutic cloning.

"'The people of California passed Prop. 71 to fund billions of dollars worth of stem cell research including (therapeutic cloning) and then the legislators and leaders of the stem cell institute put guidelines in place that greatly hamper, or virtually eliminate, the possibility of this being successful.'"
Somers continued:
"The institute has distributed $614 million through 229 grants, but only one has involved therapeutic cloning. Several grant requests were denied after doubts were raised that the scientists would be able to obtain enough eggs, called oocytes, to conduct the research.

"'It's clear that without having access to resources, in this case human oocytes, we cannot move forward,' said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a University of Oregon scientist considered a leader in therapeutic cloning."
Both Mitalipov and Wood had grant applications rejected by the California stem cell agency, Somers reported. But CIRM President Alan Trounson, Wood and Stemagen's chief scientific officer, Andrew French, co-authored a 2006 paper advocating cloning-based stem cell research, according to Jesse Reynolds of Biopolitical Times.

Somers quoted David Smotrich, who runs La Jolla IVF, a fertility practice, as saying the average payment for buying eggs in California is $3,000 to $5,000 but sometimes higher.

She said,
"Wood, who also runs a fertility practice in San Diego, conducted a survey of women who were egg donors for fertility purposes and found that 60 percent would consider doing so for research. All but one would expect to be compensated, at a rate of at least $3,000, he said. Wood hopes the survey will help change state law."
But there is opposition to easing CIRM's payment standards. Somers wrote,
"'People voted for Prop. 71 with the understanding that eggs would not be paid for,' said Jeff Sheehy, an AIDS activist and member of the institute's board. 'We can't suddenly say that the words and law don't mean what we thought they meant.'

"In 2006, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting payment for oocytes donated for research that is not funded by the institute. For that reason, the Legislature should address the issue, said Sheehy, a member of the institute's standards committee. Elected leaders could give the institute direction, he said."
Earlier this year, Trounson raised concerns about egg shortages. In June, he said researchers are "floundering" because they do not have enough eggs. One Harvard researcher, Kevin Eggan, who serves on a CIRM panel, also complained last spring that a $100,000 advertising campaign on the East Coast seeking egg donors had been unsuccessful. The Associated Press has written about the problem as well in a story that circulated nationally.

Recently Singapore, which has launched a major stem cell research effort involving top level American scientists, approved paying egg donors for their time as well as lost wages. CIRM rules allow reimbursement for lost wages but do not permit compensation for lost time.

Somers quoted Marie Csete, CIRM's chief scientific officer, as saying its standards committee will meet in February to discuss egg payments. Sphere: Related Content

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