Donation of embryos to stem cell research

5th January 2004

The majority of couples undergoing IVF are willing to donate their surplus embryos for embryonic stem cell research, a study has found. The survey from the Newcastle Fertility Centre found that 57% of couples who were asked to consider donation, chose to consent.

There is much controversy surrounding stem cell research but this study suggests that greater understanding of the issues leads to a favourable opinion of the technologies.

The study aimed to identify the factors that affect a couple’s decision in this matter, so that clinics are able to minimise psychological distress to patients and their families by approaching only those who would be most comfortable discussing the subject.

IVF couples are provided with written information on the needs, uses and benefits of embryonic stem cells in medical research. These include the potential of future therapies for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Professor Alison Murdoch, who led the study, said ‘Studies like this one enable IVF clinics to understand their clients much better, and minimise distress during a difficult and emotional time for couples.’

Our results are encouraging as they show that couples undergoing IVF understand the need and benefits of embryo research, probably because they have access to good information that the majority of the population do not. When people understand this issue they tend to look on it favourably. Scientists should not be afraid of engaging the public on this issue.

Alison Murdoch is Chair of the British Fertility Society.

Clare Brown, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK said “The results of this study highlight the fact that couples are keen to assist others whilst going through what is an extremely difficult, both physically and emotionally, treatment for themselves personally. The key word for couples is obviously “information”. It is vital that every effort is made to ensure that this information is used to create a more positive public awareness of what is, and what could be, possible’.

Notes for Editors

This work will be presented at the Joint Meeting of the Association of Clinical Embryologists and British Fertility Society, 5-6 January 2004 in Liverpool, UK.

The study was carried out by M Choudhary, M Herbert, M Stojkovic and AP Murdoch from Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life, Reproductive Medicine Department, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.