By Jane Dreaper and Rachael Buchanan
The UK's fertility regulator has amended a licence to allow stem cell researchers to recruit egg donors not already having medical treatment.
Women can donate eggs for research
A world expert criticised the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for making the decision during a public consultation on the issue.
The HFEA has defended the decision, and stressed that it will not affect the outcome of the consultation.
The process of human egg donation involves potential health risks.
Earlier this year, the team in Newcastle was awarded a temporary licence to offer discounted IVF treatment if patients donate eggs for research.
It has emerged that the team was granted the UK's first licence to begin recruiting female donors who are not already having medical treatment in November - even though the HFEA's public consultation on the issue didn't finish until early December.
Leading stem cell scientist, Dr Stephen Minger, from King's College London, criticised the awarding of the licence.
He said: "Although I support this research, I am flabbergasted that the licence was given before the consultation process was completed. It seems very improper.
"It begs the question - what is the point in having a consultation?
"Why should women undergo this procedure to donate material for something where we have no idea yet how efficient therapeutic cloning with human eggs is?"
Professor Alison Murdoch, from the Centre for Life, Newcastle, which has been granted the licence to use altruistic donations said: "I think it's probably very unlikely that we will get many women coming forward, because of the procedures that are involved and the potential risks that might be involved there.
"But I believe very firmly in women's choice, and if we give these women full info about what the research is about, and about the risks that they incur in participating in this research, I think we should take their decision as it stands."
The authority said the licence could be reviewed if the consultation resulted in a new policy which did not favour this type of egg donation, known as altruistic donation.
The HFEA said in a statement: "The intention is to be ready to produce a policy by late February.
"The recent decision to allow one centre to carry out altruistic egg donation for research will not affect the outcome of the consultation.
"The centre agreed to provide the HFEA with regular information on their work in the meantime to inform our decision making.
"The HFEA has a statutory obligation to consider research applications as they come in and therefore must deal with them."
Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat member of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, said: "The medical risks of egg donation are low enough for women to be allowed to volunteer to donate for research, just as they can for the treatment of others, especially given the shortage of eggs and embryos."