May 08, 2003
Couples have donated almost 11,000 frozen human embryos to be used for research, but the majority remain unused because of the ban on using federal funds for such research, according to a survey published Thursday.
The survey, which includes responses from 340 of the 430 assisted reproductive technology practices in the US, is the first-ever accurate accounting of how many human embryos are in storage, according to the authors. The paper is in the May issue of Fertility and Sterility.
Almost 400,000 embryos are currently frozen, and 88.2% are intended for family building at some point in the future, said Dr. David Hoffman, a partner in IVF Florida Reproductive Associates and a past president of the Society for Assisted Reproduction Technology (SART), which paid for the survey.
The total number in storage is almost double previous estimates, according to Dr. Hoffman. Only 9,000 are slated for donation to other couples, and about 9,000 will be destroyed. The number designated for research -- 11,000 -- is a smaller proportion of the total than expected.
Dr. Hoffman said that some of his clients are reluctant to donate fertilized eggs to what they view as unregulated private researchers. Patients know that researchers can't use federal money, leading to the perception that private studies are less credible, he told Reuters Health.
So, even those who have said their unused embryos could be used for future studies have not given the final release, he said. Meanwhile, university researchers, who depend primarily on federal funds, aren't asking to use the embryos.
If all 11,000 embryos were used for stem cell research, 150 to 275 cell lines could be created -- "triple the number that exists," said Dr. Hoffman, noting that researchers can use federal money to study 65 designated cell lines.
Michael Manganiello, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said the new data will be used to argue for lifting the federal ban. The Coalition, which includes the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and the Parkinson's Disease Foundation among many other advocacy groups and industry and university organizations, ardently backs stem cell research.
Manganiello said he expects congressional hearings on the federal ban in late May.
Fertil Steril 2003;79:1063-1069.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd