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Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

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60% of Couples OK Embryos for Research

Most Infertile Couples Favor Stem Cell Research; Fewer Would Donate Embryos to Others

‘Missing From the Debate’ continued...

There are currently around 400,000 frozen embryos stored in the United States. If the survey paints an accurate picture of the feelings of infertile couples nationwide, Faden and Lyerly suggest that as many as 100,000 stored embryos would be available for research.

That is assuming the law is changed to allow federally funded research on new embryonic stem cells.

Currently, federal funding for stem cell research prohibits the use of cells derived from embryos available after August of 2001. The bill vetoed by President Bush Wednesday would have lifted this restriction.

2,000 New Stem Cell Lines

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to become any type of cell present in the human body. The hope is that research using the cells will lead to advances in the treatment of a host of human conditions including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

Faden and Lyerly estimated that the availability of 100,000 new embryos could conservatively lead to 2,000 new stem cell lines -- 100 times as many lines as are being used in federally funded research today.

“Other lines are being used in privately funded research,” Faden says. “But it is clear that if federal funding restrictions were lifted, embryos would be available in large numbers.”

The fact that so few infertility patients questioned in the survey (22% of respondents with embryos) were willing to donate their unused frozen embryos to couples intending pregnancy adds a new wrinkle to the national stem cell debate, Lyerly tells WebMD.

She is an ob-gyn at Duke University Medical Center and a faculty member at Duke’s Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine.

“The presumption has been that if you respect embryos you would be less likely to want to see them used for research or destroyed than for [pregnancy],” she says. “What we found was that the people who are most invested in these embryos -- emotionally, genetically, and financially -- are reluctant to have them turned into children outside the context of their families, without their love and care.”

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