Research published last week shows that women who take part in sharing programmes when they undergo fertility treatment do not compromise their own chance of having a baby. When a woman agrees to egg sharing, half of the eggs collected in one of her cycles are donated to another woman, while half are used in her own treatment. This is usually in return for a reduction in the usual price of IVF.
The new study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, evaluated egg sharing taking place at the private Lister Fertility Clinic in London, which has run an egg sharing programme since 1992. The researchers looked at 276 egg sharing cycles involving 192 women who had agreed to share their eggs, 274 IVF cycles in which women had received eggs and 1098 IVF or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) cycles (involving 718 women) where egg sharing had not been used. The different groups of women were studied to see if the doses and duration of drugs needed in ovarian stimulation, the numbers of eggs collected/donated, or rates of fertilisation, pregnancy or live birth were different.
Hossam Abdalla, director of the clinic and leader of the research team, said that no significant differences were found between the three groups of women. Women who shared eggs achieved a pregnancy rate of 42 per cent and a live birth rate of 33 per cent. This compared to a 40 per cent pregnancy rate and 30.9 per cent live birth rate for non egg sharers and 41 per cent and 28.6 per cent rates respectively for recipients. In addition, the number of eggs collected, the amount of drugs used and the average number of embryos transferred also differed only slightly between the groups.
Two previous studies have shown lower pregnancy rates in women who shared their eggs. But these studies used a small sample of patients. Mr Abdalla said that 'up to now, there has been no research in the UK carried out with large numbers of patients to ensure that the egg sharing programme is not detrimental to egg sharers and/or to the outcome of recipients' treatment compared with standard IVF or ICSI'. The premise that egg sharing lessens the chances of pregnancy for women who donate is based on the fact that their ovaries may be over stimulated to produce eggs. But Mr Abdalla said the egg sharers in the study were given the same standard drug regimen as other women receiving treatment and that the clinic's view was that 'the sharer should always be given priority and have the first call on her eggs'. The study has made sure that donors had the first four of their eggs collected. 'I believe that is the primary reason for the success of our programme', said Mr Abdalla.