Human Exceptionalism

A Potential Way Around the Egg Dearth

A dearth in human eggs and the potential harm to women’s health sometimes caused in obtaining them through current means, has both stymied human cloning research and moved biotechnology toward exploiting poor women for their eggs in their zeal to conduct human cloning research.

This important ethical issue may one day fade. Canadian scientists have apparently extracted immature eggs obtained from surgically removed ovarian tissue, matured them in a Petri dish, after which they were frozen, thawed, then used them in IVF fertilization. From the story:

The trial group comprised 20 women, whose average age was about 30, who had been diagnosed by ultrasound to have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a fertility-threatening hormonal disorder that affects around 10 percent of all women of child-bearing years.
A total of 296 eggs were collected from the patients, of which 290 were immature, ESHRE said in a press release. They were then matured in the laboratory for 24-48 hours, and were frozen for several months and then thawed. Of these, 148 oocytes survived the thawing process and were fertilised by a technique called intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection.
Sixty-four embryos were then transferred to the women, who received multiple embryos in order to boost the chance of a successful pregnancy. Holzer said his team had progressively improved the success rate, noting that three of the pregnancies had been achieved in the past five patients.
But he cautioned against giving rise to false hopes. The research is still in its preliminary stages and had not yet been proven in cancer patients, the biggest potential beneficiaries.

There’s more involved here than allowing women to have babies after removal of their ovaries. If the same technique could work with SCNT, it would be possible to obtain eggs ethically–as from cadavers or surgically removed ovaries. Another potential source that would cause howls of controversy would be aborted late term female fetuses.