Scientists planning to create the world’s first genetically-modified children are offering to pay women £500 for their ova.
The scheme for the mass harvesting of female eggs follows the House of Commons approval of Government regulations to permit “three-parent IVF” in an attempt to combat often deadly inherited mitochondrial illnesses.
A team at Newcastle University is advertising “for fit, healthy women between the ages of 21-35 years old who are willing to donate their eggs. Donors will receive £500 compensation for a completed donation cycle”.
“To help us achieve this, we need volunteers coming forward to donate their eggs so that we can use the healthy mitochondria and thus create a healthy pregnancy,” says the team’s advert in a local newspaper.
“Any women coming forward to offer egg donation would be assessed and undergo a full debriefing of what any procedure would involve.”
The plan to harvest eggs for the procedures met with immediate criticism from campaigners opposed to the new regulations, which will face opposition when they are presented to the House of Lords on February 24, including a motion to suspend them until further research is undertaken.
Lord Alton of Liverpool said it was wrong for scientists to pre-empt the outcome of the vote when there were grave concerns among peers that the regulations were either unsafe, illegal or unethical.
He said egg procurement procedures carried the risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, a condition which harms nearly 500 donors a year, and which is classed as severe in about 60 of the cases.
“Women’s health is wantonly and dangerously placed at risk by hyper-ovulation,” Lord Alton said.
“In addition, one of the procedures involves the destruction of the human embryos fertilised by the eggs.”
He added: “The enticing of women, who may well be unaware of the risks, and who may be in dire financial straits, with offers of substantial sums money, only adds to the reasons why the House of Lords should insist that this is given further consideration.”
Mitochondrial genetic defects can leave cells starved of energy, causing muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death. It is estimated that defective mitochondria affect one in every 6,500 babies in the UK each year.
One of the two methods covered by the regulations is maternal spindle transfer. It involves the extraction of the genetic material from a mother’s ovum which is then inserted into an eviscerated healthy donor ovum before fertilisation by the father. This method is sometimes called “three-parent IVF”.
The other method, called pronuclear transfer, involves the creation of two embryos – one with its mother’s defective mitochondria and the other by donor parents.
At the one-cell stage the donor embryo is partially gutted and the mother’s pro-nuclei with her DNA inserted into the remaining cell with its healthy mitochondria.
Both embryos are destroyed in the process, and the mother’s embryo is effectively cloned and repackaged before the cells begin to multiply and grow into a baby.
The proposed technologies will alter the human germ line and if the regulations clear the Lords, Britain will be the first country in the world to legalise them.
They are prohibited by the European Union, opposed by the United Nations, and have been questioned by the US Food and Drug Administration, which stated that the “full spectrum of risks … has yet to be identified”.
Mounting concern over the technologies among scientists around the world last year led the respected New Scientist magazine to ditch its unequivocal support for the procedures and to call for a halt to the passage of legislation while more research is carried out.
Last week MPs voted by 328 to 128 in favour of the procedures after Jane Ellison, the Public Health Minister, assured them they had nothing to fear.