Brussels, 29 Jul 2005
The UK scientist famous for cloning Dolly the sheep is to seek permission to ask women to donate eggs for cloning experiments. It is thought that collecting fresh eggs, as opposed to those discarded during fertility treatment, would speed up progress towards understanding, and possibly treating, motor neurone disease.
Currently, UK cloning experts have only used spare eggs left over from couples attending fertility clinics, which would otherwise be disposed of. But, many scientists working in this field believe that the poor quality of the eggs that they are receiving is having a negative impact upon their research, and hindering their ability to grow into healthy clones.
However, the suggestion that women might be asked to donate eggs has already raised ethical concerns within the UK. Religious groups have accused Ian Wilmot of turning women and their eggs into commodities.
Professor Wilmot is confident, however, that many women would be happy to donate in order to advance research. 'I have never doubted that women would donate if they thought we were helping people to have treatment,' he told the Guardian newspaper. 'Our hope and belief is that women who have seen the devastating effect of [motor neurone] disease will be prepared to make such a donation.'
The potential benefits of using fresh eggs for cloning research have already been illustrated by a team in South Korea. Having collected eggs from women who wished them to be used solely for research, Professor Woo Suk Hwang and his team became the first to produce a cloned human embryo. They were also able to produce tissues from clones tailored towards specific patients.