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Womb transplants approved for ten UK women

12 October 2015
Appeared in BioNews 823

Ethical approval has been given for clinical trials involving ten womb transplants in the UK to go ahead.

The news of the planned operations, which will involve uteruses taken from deceased donors, follows reports of the first successful birth in Sweden last year using a womb donated from a living donor (see BioNews 775).

Dr Richard Smith, a consultant gynecologist at the Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London, who will lead the transplant team, said: 'As we have seen from the tremendously successful womb transplant programme being carried out by our colleagues in Sweden, this operation is clearly a viable option for those women who otherwise have absolutely no chance of carrying their own baby.'

'Absolute infertility can bring with it terrible consequences for as many as 50,000 women of childbearing age in the UK who do not have a viable womb,' said Dr Smith.

Around one in 5000 women are affected by Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome and are born without a womb, while others can lose their wombs to cancer.

Of the 300 women who approached Womb Transplant UK, only 104 met the criteria for potential inclusion. These women must have no significant medical problems, be in a long-term relationship, between the ages of 25 and 38, be a healthy weight and have normally functioning ovaries and their own eggs.

The candidates must also be fluent in English, a UK resident and eligible for NHS care. Unlike in Sweden, where live donors were used, wombs used for transplants in the UK will be taken from donors who are brain-dead but whose hearts are still beating.

'Donor retrieval is a bigger operation than transplanting the uterus into the recipient,' Dr Smith said. 'We don't want to subject a live donor to that operation.'

A team of 12 is required to perform the operation, which could take up to nine hours including organ retrieval and transplant. The recipient will also need to take immunosuppressant drugs immediately following the transplant and throughout the pregnancy to prevent her body from rejecting the organ.

The health of the woman will be monitored closely for one year following the transplant and only then will an embryo created by IVF using the woman and her partner's gametes be implanted in the womb. Any resulting babies will be delivered at 35–37 weeks by caesarean section to prevent any additional strain on the uterus.

Couples will be given the option of trying for two pregnancies before the womb is removed. The womb will then be removed to prevent women from having to remain on immunosuppressant drugs for a prolonged period of time.

However, the trial needs to raise £500,000 before any operations can take place, and each transplant is projected to cost £50,000. 'I've always been an enormous optimist,' said Dr Smith. 'The project has run with no money from the start. Somehow or other, somebody has always turned up and given us enough money to keep it going.' So far just over £40,000 has been donated to the Womb Transplant UK project. It is still uncertain if after this trial is completed the NHS will go on to fund this procedure.

The operations are due to commence early in the New Year.

Ten British women get go-ahead for womb transplants
The Telegraph |  30 September 2015
UK Womb Transplant Research Team receives go-ahead to begin operations
Womb Transplant UK (press release) |  29 September 2015
Womb transplants: first 10 British women given go-ahead
The Guardian |  30 September 2015
Womb transplants for ten UK women: Surgeons to be allowed to perform life-changing treatment in pioneering project which could allow thousands to achieve their dream of motherhood
Mail Online |  29 September 2015
Womb transplants given UK go-ahead
BBC News |  30 September 2015
25 March 2019 - by Ana Hallgarten 
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) symposium event 'Revolutionising Reproduction: The Future of Fertility Treatment' took place at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on the 19th March 2019...
11 December 2017 - by Dr Sam Sherratt 
A woman in Texas has become the first person in the USA to give birth after receiving a uterus transplant...
15 May 2017 - by Georgia Everett 
A hospital in India is preparing this week to conduct the country’s first ever womb transplant...
21 November 2016 - by Dr Natasha Hammond-Browning 
Sixteen uterus donations have occurred worldwide, and so far only a research team in Sweden has carried out transplants that successfully produced live births. The Swedish trial involved donations from living persons...
10 October 2016 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Four women in the USA have become the first in the country to receive uteruses transplanted from living donors...
21 September 2015 - by Dr Nicola Williams 
There are currently good arguments for allowing living donors to be used in uterus transplants, but as research continues there may come a time when only deceased donors will be justifiable...
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...
20 January 2014 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
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...
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