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Fertility clinics in California assailed for human-egg swaps

A scandal over allegations of uncontrolled swapping of human eggs, improper research and financial irregularities is unfolding at three of California's most prestigious fertility clinics. More than 40 patients and seven babies may be involved in the affair, which has shaken the largely unregulated field of reproductive technology.

The University of California at Irvine has accused threeprominent physicians of misappropriating human eggs and embryos, as well as financial and research misconduct. At the centre of the row is an Argentine doctor, Ricardo Asch, 47.

Staff have told investigators that embryos were used however Dr Asch saw fit. It is also alleged that he dispensed an unapproved fertility drug from Argentina, HMG Massone, to cash-paying overseas patients.

Dr Asch also allegedly would disappear from operating rooms for up to 90 minutes to speak to his horse trainer.

He shot to fame in 1984, when he developed the infertility treatment known as GIFT - gamete intra-Fallopian transfer - where conception occurs in the body after the eggs and sperm are injected.

The scandal has spread to include a University of California medical centre at San Diego, and the Orange clinic.

Sergio Stone, another fertility specialist under investigation, is accused of throwing things, kicking walls and calling staff"pigs". The doctors contend they are victims of shoddy record-keeping by UC-Irvine employees and did not knowingly engage in any unapproved egg transfers.