Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fresh Human Eggs and Stem Cell Economics

The price of human eggs and their scarcity, at least for stem cell research, once again have risen as topics, but this time in New York.

The events in the Empire State, however, dovetail nicely with a similar, ongoing issue at the Golden State's $3 billion stem cell agency.

Hawk-eyed Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Ca., spotted the New York egg issue and reported on it on the Biopolitical Times.

He wrote on June 3,
"One aspect that caught my eye, not surprisingly, concerns the sourcing of fresh human eggs for cloning-based stem cell research (a.k.a. somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT). Although NYSTEM's brief authorizing law is silent on this and related issues, such matters have been deliberated by NYSTEM's Ethics Committee. The draft strategic plan reveals the Committee and the program's governing board are considering offering compensation for women to provide eggs. (pages 26-27)

"This would be an unfortunate deviation to the generally agreed-upon practice of only reimbursing for expenses. I am aware of no ethics committee that has endorsed payments,* and of only one research team which offered them (and that was before the consensus against compensation crystallized in 2004). The good news is that there is still time for input: NYSTEM has not explored the issue in depth, and the Ethics Committee will discuss the topic at its next meeting."
Earlier this year, we reported that the California stem cell agency has embarked on a review of the human egg market and the needs of researchers, some of whom are complaining that they do not have enough raw material.

The study was set in motion after Harvard scientist Kevin Eggan told the CIRM Standards Working Group that he and his colleagues had spent $100,000 advertising for donors and "pursued every option" for collecting eggs with little success.

CIRM President Alan Trounson said "accessing those eggs is no trivial matter." He said scientists are seeking grants from CIRM for research that may not be feasible because of the lack of human eggs.

A wide-ranging review of the issue and related topics is expected to surface publicly at CIRM sometime this year. Issues that may be aired include: availability of eggs and their numbers, researchers' perceptions of the problem, possible reimbursement of IVF treatment, use of eggs by CIRM researchers from other areas where compensation restrictions are not so tight (such as possibly New York) and the grandfathering of cell lines that were derived before CIRM regulations were adopted.

The subject comes under the Standards Working Group, which has a July 25 meeting scheduled in Los Angeles. However, no topic for that session has been announced. We are asking CIRM when the egg issue will come up.

On other related notes:

The Feb. 28 meeting of the Standards Working Group on eggs and other matters carried a reference by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein to an "opinion" by CIRM outside counsel. We queried CIRM about the opinion. Here is the agency's response:

"There is no email or other written legal opinion from James Harrison regarding reimbursements for IVF costs. The transcript from the working group reflects that Bob did query Harrison during the meeting asking him to send a copy of law 1260 (SB1260 by Sen. Deborah Ortiz), which deals with payments for eggs. Harrison did send the bill in an email and that is what is referenced in the transcript. Bob requested that so that he could show a section toward the end of the bill that explicitly states nothing in 1260 is designed to change anything in Prop. 71."

Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society also has a rundown on writings by feminist scholars on eggs and cloning-based stem cell research. You can find the citations and links to the articles here.

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