Couples may be permitted to set aside spare IVF embryos in case they want to harvest treatments from them in future, according to reports.
The Government’s fertility watchdog is set to consider the idea of allowing families to ‘bank’ spare embryos to provide personalised cures for them or their other children, reports The Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Embryos created by IVF and not immediately implanted in their mother’s womb can currently be kept for up to five years, but new rules expected in October will extend this to 55 years.
For now such embryos can only be stored with a view to future implantation, but the HFEA will debate permitting their storage and use purely as a source of embryonic stem cells.
There is speculation that future technologies could use these stem cells in personalised treatments for the embryo’s parents.
However, campaigners have warned that allowing people to freeze embryos to be used for later treatment could result in these becoming “the latest must-have healthcare accessory”.
One company in America is reportedly already offering such a service.
Stem cells can currently be taken from the umbilical cord of newborn babies and stored for use in future treatments or research – a practice which avoids the destruction of embryos.
In fact, the most promising recent advances have involved these and other ‘adult’ stem cells from ethical sources.
Scientists have already transplanted a new section of windpipe grown from a patient’s own adult stem cells.
The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has already allowed the creation of ‘saviour siblings’ – children selected as embryos so that their cells or tissue can be used to treat an older brother or sister once they are born.
A spokesman for the HFEA said: “Horizon scanning is part of our regulatory role. We look at developing technologies which may impact on the work we do.”
However, Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: “It is sadly almost inevitable that bespoke embryonic stem cells created from frozen surplus will become the latest must-have healthcare accessory.”