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Alison Murdoch

You can't get something for nothing, especially when it comes to acquiring women's eggs for medical research. But it is becoming clear that there are effective alternatives to cash payments, which are banned in several countries.

At the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Barcelona, Spain, this week, Alison Murdoch of the International Centre for Life in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK, describes a successful "egg sharing" scheme. Women struggling to conceive can obtain IVF at a discounted rate, in exchange for donating some of their eggs for research.

Cash payments to egg donors are banned in the UK. But Murdoch's approach was approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and has worked like a charm. In 2008, Murdoch's team had 191 enquiries from interested women and ended up obtaining 199 eggs from 32 couples.

"We are getting donors and we are getting eggs," says Murdoch. The team is using the eggs in experiments into "therapeutic cloning", which could ultimately produce stem cells matched to individual patients.

Murdoch's success contrasts with the slim pickings obtained by researchers...