The public and political debate about stem cell research remains dominated by the divisive embryo issue. But some policy makers are beginning to address the risks posed by the procurement of women's eggs, which researchers want in large numbers for efforts to derive stem cells from cloned embryos.
The most significant policy news comes from California, where a new law establishes a range of safeguards related to informed consent, potential conflicts of interest, and discouraging a commercialized market in eggs. The law was authored by Democratic state Senator Deborah Ortiz, a champion of women's health and an early advocate of stem cell research; supported by public interest and women's health groups including the Center for Genetics and Society; and approved by near-unanimous votes in the state legislature.
The new law applies to cloning research that is not funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (which is insulated from legislative oversight by the ballot measure that created it). Fortunately, CIRM has been persuaded to adopt similar regulations, so all research efforts in California that require women's eggs must now follow more or less the same rules.
CIRM also asked the Institute of Medicine to sponsor a one-day workshop to assess the medical risks that egg retrieval poses to women. The September session was the first of its kind, despite the fact that women have been providing eggs in the context of the assisted reproduction industry for some years. A webcast of the meeting is available and a report is expected. Many speakers acknowledged the lack of adequate data and follow-up studies, and how little is known about long-term health outcomes.
Several biotechnology companies and research teams are already experimenting with cloning techniques that require women's eggs. One, Advanced Cell Technology, placed ads recruiting women to provide them within weeks of the Hwang scandal of late 2005 and early 2006