Women who donate eggs for stem cell research face few health risks

Women who donate their eggs for stem cell research or in vitro fertilization are not at increased risk of health complications, and most of the risks are a result of the hormones used to stimulate their bodies to release more than one egg, according to a report commissioned by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine and released by the Institute of Medicine, Bloomberg reports.

CIRM decided to assess the risk of human egg donation before administering grants under Proposition 71 to researchers who would use donated eggs (Waters, Bloomberg, 2/7).

The process of donating eggs involves inserting a thin needle through the vagina into the ovary.

Prior to the usual procedure, donors undergo a course of hormone injections to help the process of obtaining five to 15 eggs (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 10/02/06).

These treatments can cause mild pain, slight enlargement of the ovaries and infrequent nausea in the women, Linda Giudice -- chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California-San Francisco and co-chair of the IOM panel that produced the report -- said.

Studies of women who used hormones to provide eggs that could be used for IVF found that between 2% and 5% of the women developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.

The report said that although most cases of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome were mild and temporary, in rare cases the condition could lead to serious complications, including kidney failure or death.

Fewer than 0.2% of women taking the hormones experience symptoms such as blood clots or reduce blood flow to the kidneys, and about 1.4 of every 100,000 women undergoing fertility treatments experience kidney failure, the report said.

Giudice said risk related to infection, surgical complications and anesthesia also are "remarkably low" among women undergoing the procedure.

Data did not show that the women are at increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer but there was too little information to assess the risk of uterine cancer, she said.

Giudice added that the data are rough estimates of the risks involved in egg donation because women who have donated eggs in the past have not been tracked for long periods of time.

Members of the IOM panel suggested that researchers continue tracking women who donate eggs and collect that information in a database (Bloomberg, 2/7).


Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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