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Womb transplants successful for nine women

20 January 2014
Appeared in BioNews 738

Nine women have received transplants of uteruses donated by their mothers or other living relatives in an ongoing trial of an experimental procedure at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The transplants began in September 2012 (reported in BioNews 674) and the women are said to be doing well. Some of the women's uteruses have already showed signs of healthy functioning and although some of the patients experienced minor rejection issues, none required intensive care after surgery, the researchers said. The hospital had initially planned to perform ten surgeries in total, but one woman had to drop out for medical reasons.

The women, most of whom are in their 30s and were either born without wombs or had them removed because of cancer, will soon attempt to become pregnant via IVF. The surgery did not connect the uteruses to the women's fallopian tubes, so the women will not be able to conceive naturally. However, they do all have functioning ovaries and their eggs were used to create embryos that were cryopreserved before the operation.

Doctors have previously managed to achieve a pregnancy in previous womb transplants, but no babies have yet been born following the procedure. A Turkish woman became the first person to receive a womb from a deceased donor in 2011 but her pregnancy was terminated after eight weeks (reported in BioNews 705). Doctors had waited 18 months before attempting implantation. In 2000, a woman in Saudi Arabia received a uterus from a live donor but it had to be removed after three months when a clot developed due to poor blood flow.

'This is a new kind of surgery', Dr Mats Brännström, who is leading the initiative at the University of Gothenburg, said in an interview. 'We have no textbook to look at'.

Dr Brännström and colleagues are planning to run a workshop on the technique next month and to publish a scientific report on their method soon.

A potentially controversial aspect of the Swedish trial is that the transplanted wombs were from living donors. The researchers explain that taking uteruses from living donors means they are generally in a better condition and that using the patient's relatives as donors leads to a better immunological match.

In contrast, plans to perform the surgery in the UK and in Turkey would only use a uterus donated by dead or dying people to avoid putting donors through major surgery.

'Mats [Brännström] has done something amazing and we understand completely why he has taken this route, but we are wary of that approach', said Dr Richard Smith, head of the charity Womb Transplant UK, which is trying to raise the funds to carry out the operation on five women in Britain.

Experts are now waiting to see whether the pregnancies will succeed. Dr Smith said 'the principal concern for me is if the baby will get enough nourishment from the placenta and if the blood flow is good enough'.

According to Womb Transplant UK, around 15,000 women of child-bearing age are born without a womb, and could potentially benefit from the development of the technique.

Dr Yacoub Khalaf, director of the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy's Hospital, London, said 'what remains to be seen is whether this is a viable option or if this is going to be confined to research and limited experimentation'.

Nine Swedish women receive womb transplants
BBC News |  13 January 2014
Swedish doctors transplant wombs into 9 women
Associated Press |  13 January 2014
The first babies from womb transplants 'to be born next year'
Daily Mail |  13 January 2014
Womb transplants hailed as success in pioneering Swedish project
The Guardian |  13 January 2014
12 October 2015 - by Nina Chohan 
Ethical approval has been given for clinical trials involving ten womb transplants in the UK to go ahead....
13 October 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
A boy has become the first baby to be born to a womb transplant recipient....
13 October 2014 - by Dr Amel Alghrani 
Following the first baby born after a womb transplant, the time has come to debate uterus transplantation. How will it be regulated in the UK and what social, legal and ethical issues does it raise?
10 March 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Four women who had womb transplants have had embryos transferred in an attempt to become pregnant...
10 March 2014 - by Dr Kevin Grimes 
Ethics is about communication, and this is true when looking back on our ethical discussion of womb transplantation...
20 May 2013 - by Dr Anna Cauldwell 
Doctors have terminated the pregnancy of 22-year-old Derya Sert, the first woman to receive a womb transplant from a deceased donor....
15 April 2013 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
One of the first women to receive a womb transplant is pregnant, the treating hospital has disclosed. A spokesperson said that early test results were 'consistent' with signs of pregnancy....
24 September 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
Two women in Sweden received uterus transplants from their mothers, with hopes it will allow them to conceive children of their own...
16 July 2012 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
A charity has been launched to raise money for research that could allow the first womb transplants in the UK...
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