In a groundbreaking transplant operation in Sweden, nine women have successfully received wombs from their female relatives. The women, most of them in their 30s, were either born without a uterus, or had theirs removed because of cervical cancer.
The next step is to attempt pregnancies.
Because the uteruses have not been connected to the women’s fallopian tubes, natural pregnancy is impossible. Each woman does, however, have her own ovaries; some of each woman’s eggs were removed and frozen before the operation. Doctors now plan to transfer these eggs into the new wombs, which, if successful, will allow the women to carry their own biological children.
The transplants began in 2012. All nine womb recipients are reportedly doing well; six weeks after the transplant, many of them have already gotten their periods, indicating healthy, functioning wombs. None of the anonymous recipients needed intensive care after the surgery, and all nine left the hospital within days.
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Although the operation itself is not a new one, its success is. Both previous attempts in Turkey and Saudi Arabia failed to produce babies. The first womb transplant was performed in 2000 in Saudi Arabia, using a live donor; three months later that womb had to be removed because a blood clot had formed.
This will be the first major experiment that tests whether women with transplanted wombs can give birth to their own children.
It is also the first experiment to attempt temporary transplants. In comparison to limb and organ transplants, which have both been done for decades with the intention of improving patients’ quality of life, womb transplants are intended for the sole and temporary purpose of childbearing.
The initiative is led by Dr. Mats Brannstrom of the University of Gothenburg. Brannstrom and his colleagues are preparing to run the first-ever workshop on womb transplants in February.
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Although fertility experts have “hailed the project as significant,” they also “stress [that] it’s unknown whether the transplants will result in healthy babies.”
In addition, Sweden’s technique of using live donors has also stirred up some controversy. Brannstrom has explained that using live donors allows the doctors to ensure that the donated wombs didn’t have any problems, like an HPV infection.
However, the procedure does run a high risk of complications for the donor. British officials have debated the ethics of exposing donors to such chances for “an operation that isn’t considering life-saving.” A similar undertaking in Britain plans to use only wombs from dead or dying people.
Perhaps the most pressing concern now is how the pregnancy will proceed, and whether or not the baby will be able to get enough nourishment from the placenta.
Interestingly, Sweden is amongst the many European countries in which surrogacy is illegal. Thus, should the operation and the ensuing pregnancy prove successful, it could provide an appealing choice to women for whom having biological children was previously considered impossible.
Sources: Fox News, Washington Post
Photo Source: doctorsurgerycenter.com