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A plea for assistance to UK patients undergoing IVF to consider donating any unused embryos due to a shortage that is impeding research.

Prominent researchers are urging for a revision of legislation to allow individuals undergoing IVF treatment to contribute their unutilized embryos to biomedical studies, following a significant decline in donations over the last 15 years.

The rise in commercialization of IVF, overwhelmed NHS clinics, and complicated paperwork are held responsible for a 25-fold decline in the quantity of donated embryos. Researchers noted that certain patients are taking extreme measures to guarantee that their embryos are utilized for research instead of being discarded, as many private clinics do not regularly offer donation as an alternative.

According to Prof Kathy Niakan from the University of Cambridge, there are numerous high-quality embryos that are not required by patients anymore. These embryos have the potential to be extremely valuable for research purposes. However, only a small number of clinics provide the opportunity for donation.

According to data from the Guardian, the amount of embryos donated for research after undergoing IVF treatment has steadily decreased from 17,925 in 2004 to 675 in 2019. The most recent data available is from 2019, where 76,427 embryos were transferred during IVF cycles and 172,915 were disposed of, as reported by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Many researchers are facing challenges in continuing their studies due to the fast-paced developments in genetics and culturing methods. These advancements hold great potential for providing new understanding into the underlying causes of issues such as infertility, pre-eclampsia, and genetic disorders.

Professor Niakan explained that she receives frequent requests from patients who are eager to donate embryos. She has also made several trips across the country to retrieve embryos from clinics, transporting them in a cryogenic storage box in her car.

“Some [patients] had to go through counselling because it’s taken so long for them to be able to fulfil their wishes to donate to research. Some of them have paid extra storage fees just to give time for the whole process and all the paperwork to go through,” she said. “They shouldn’t be put in that position. Somebody needs to step in and make it a lot easier.”

According to a 2017 survey by HFEA, most patients (58%) would choose to donate their embryos for research rather than let them go to waste. Only a small percentage (6%) would opt for discarding their embryos. Surprisingly, only one out of five clinics regularly assist with donation.

Sarah Norcross, the leader of the Progress Educational Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to infertility and genetic disorders, expressed her concern about the loss of human embryos that are allowed to die without being used for research. She believes that this is a scandal because these embryos could provide valuable knowledge, and it is also unwise and lacking foresight considering that IVF was only made possible through embryo research and private companies have profited from it.

One major obstacle to donation is the requirement for patients to give consent for their embryos to be utilized in particular research endeavors, resulting in the need for direct coordination between scientists and clinicians. Professor Niakan and others are advocating for the establishment of an embryo bank and for more comprehensive consent processes in order to facilitate donation and a fair evaluation of research.

A representative from the HFEA stated that the UK has a low number of donated embryos for research due to the requirement for consent for each specific research project. This limited number of donations can create difficulties for researchers. The HFEA has suggested changes to the law to allow patients to donate embryos to a research embryo bank, which can then distribute stored embryos for appropriate research purposes when necessary.

Source: theguardian.com