A boy has become the first baby to be born to a womb transplant recipient.
The mother, who is in her mid-thirties, is affected by MRKH syndrome and was born without a uterus. She is one of nine women who received wombs taken from live donors, in most cases the recipient's mother but also other relatives and friends, as a part of a medical research project conducted at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden (reported in BioNews 738). In this case, the uterus was donated by an unrelated family friend, a mother of two children, who had gone through the menopause.
The baby was delivered prematurely at 32 weeks by a Caesarean section after the mother developed pre-eclampsia, which posed a risk to both the parent and the unborn child. The newborn weighed just under 4lbs, which is within the norm for that stage of pregnancy. The mother and the baby were released from the hospital ten days after birth.
Professor Mats Brännström, who is leading the project, commented: 'The baby screamed right away and has not required any other care than normal clinical observation at the neonatal unit. The mother and child are both doing well and have returned home. The new parents are of course very happy and thankful.'
He explained the reason for the pre-eclampsia was unknown, suggesting that it could have been due to the immunosuppressive treatment and the fact the woman had only one kidney. Age could also be a factor, he said, adding that pre-eclampsia is also more common among women who have received IVF.
Womb transplantation offers an alternative to surrogacy or adoption for women who are either born without a womb or have theirs removed due to birth complications, cancer or other diseases. This success may bring hope to around sixty British couples who have been affected by this as yet untreatable form of female infertility. In the UK, the initiative is led by Dr Richard Smith head of the charity Womb Transplant UK. 'We have known for some time that it is possible to successfully transplant a womb. But the big unknown has been whether it is possible for that womb to safely carry a baby. Now we know it can,' he told the Daily Mail.
Dr Smith plans to use deceased donors, avoiding ethical questions around whether it is acceptable for living donors to be subjected to such an invasive procedure as uterus removal.
However, he is still awaiting ethical approval for implementing the project. One of the concerns is whether the blood supply to the transplanted womb would be sufficient to nourish the developing fetus (see BioNews 740).
Seven of the women in the Swedish study have received embryos created by IVF, with the other two needing to have their uteruses removed following complications. Two more women are expected to give birth towards the end of the year and the outcomes of those pregnancies will help to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of the treatment.
All the women will be given the opportunity to transfer another one of their IVF embryos (reported in BioNews 745) to attempt a second pregnancy, six months after birth of their first baby. The transplanted uteri will subsequently be removed.
News of the birth was published in The Lancet.