This complicated, expensive surgery will allow a women without a uterus carry her own child.
Doctors in the United Kingdom have been granted permission to conduct womb transplants as part of a clinical trial. The decision made by the UK’s Health Research Authority comes after recent successes by Swedish doctors.
Ten women will begin the process of receiving a womb transplant this spring. With luck, the first baby will arrive in 2018.
The move for the UK to start clinical trials follows Sweden’s nine successful uterus transplants in the past year. The nine Swedish women all received the new organs from willing family members. One of the women from the trial became the first in world history to successfully deliver a baby from a womb transplanted from a live donor.
“To be able to carry my own child would be amazing,” said Sophie Lewis, one of the first ten recipients chosen for the UK trial. At the age of 16, Sophie was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome- condition that results in the womb not developing.
The operation takes at least six hours to perform. After the operation and during the pregnancy, the woman will have to take immunosuppressant drugs to ensure that her body does not reject the new uterus.
Once the fully recovered from the transplant, the woman will be impregnated via In Vitro fertilization because her fallopian tubes will not be connected to the new uterus. In addition, the birth will have do be done by Caesarean section.
The new womb will only be good for a maximum of two pregnancies. Afterwards, it must be removed so the woman will not have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life.
All told, a womb transplant costs £50,000.
“Over the years I have quite a lot of crisis with this project,” said Dr. Richard Smith of Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London. “But when you meet the women who have been born without a uterus, or who have had their uterus removed for one reason or another, this is really heart-rending stuff and that is what has kept us going.”
According to the UK’s Health Research Authority, strict criteria are put in place for selecting the women who will participate in the clinical trial. The applicant must be under the age of 38, be of healthy weight, and be in a committed, long-term relationship with a partner.
Over 300 women have applied so far. Only 104 have met the criteria.
“The UK team have been working on this for many years and so it is very exciting that they have been given the go ahead to move into clinical practice,” said Adam Balen, Chairman of the British Fertility Society. “This opens up the possibility to carry their own pregnancy rather than reply upon IVF with their eggs and surrogacy.”
Yet the UK’s decision has not gone off without a hitch. Already, people have begun to protest the ethics of the operation.
Part of this consternation stems from the decision to take the uteruses from ‘brain-dead’ donors who have healthy bodies- as opposed to the willing, living family member donors of the Swedish cases.
There is also the concern of undergoing an expensive, complicated operation while millions of orphans would happily be adopted by such a well-off family.
Each year, approximately 7000 women are born without a womb. Still more lose the organ due to diseases such as cancer.