By: Jamie Morton

Important fertility studies are being held back by New Zealand’s “restrictive by default” stance on using viable human embryos, researchers say.

The authors of a just-published study are now calling on the Government to review current rules, and say more practical guidelines could help improve treatments.

More than 20 per cent of Kiwis now experienced infertility at some point in their lives, with more couples turning to fertility treatment such as IVF.

Under current law, researchers wanting to carry out studies using embryos are required to go through the ministerial ethics committee.

That body was required to formulate their decisions using guidelines published by another group, the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology, or Acart.

As the 13-year-old guidelines only allowed for human embryos for research using non-viable human embryos, ethics approval wasn’t currently being granted.

This meant human embryo research carried in other countries like Australia and the US couldn’t be done here.

Specifically, research that “uses” viable human embryos that were required to be discarded after 10 years couldn’t be undertaken in New Zealand – and that included studies using identical methods to clinical treatments for infertility.

Authors of the study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, argued the stance on the “use” of embryos for reproductive research effectively allowed fertility clinics to provide reproductive treatments, while holding back all potential research projects that could improve these existing treatments.

A survey of researchers from 20 major academic, clinical, and governmental institutes found most were unhappy with a lack of official guidance, and felt the regime was a barrier to progressing scientific research here.

“We suggest that the Minister of Health instructs ministerial advisory committees to review the current guidelines and to define the term ‘use of embryos’,” said lead author Professor Cindy Farquhar, of the University of Auckland.

The Ministry of Health’s group manager of quality, assurance and safety, Emma Prestidge, said the ministry wasn’t looking at reviewing the guidelines as that responsibility fell to Acart.

Acart chair Gillian Ferguson said the committee was aware of the concerns.

“Acart has, over a number of years, consistently taken a position that the existing guidelines would benefit from a comprehensive review,” she said.

“However, at this stage, they don’t form part of our existing work programme, which we agree with the minister.”

Source: NZ Herald

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