Gynaecological surgeons believe that a revolutionary new womb transplant procedure may offer hope to women who are unable to get pregnant because their wombs have been removed, are weak or damaged, or because the women themselves have been born without a womb (also called the uterus). Approximately 15,000 women in the UK have no womb and 200 of these women opt to have children via a surrogate pregnancy every year. These women may have had their wombs removed as part of treatment for cancer of the reproductive system or due to previous complications during pregnancy or birth. Some women who suffer from uterine fibroids end up with a womb that has become distorted or damaged and is therefore unable to maintain a pregnancy. Although very rare, there are cases of women who are born without a womb. Fertility specialists hope that the womb transplant procedure will offer such women an alternative to surrogate pregnancy and adoption.
The World's First Womb Transplant
Although it did not lead to a successful pregnancy, the world's first womb transplant was carried out in 2000 in Saudi Arabia on a 26-year-old woman. The womb donor was an older, living lady who had had her womb removed for medical reasons. The womb was attached to the recipient's blood supply, and she was given immunosuppressant drugs similar to those prescribed for recipients of kidney transplants. The aim of giving her the drugs was to prevent her body rejecting the new womb. Fertility drugs were also administered to encourage ovulation and the thickening of the endometrial lining, with success. Unfortunately, after almost 100 days, complications arose and the womb had to be removed. Although a successful pregnancy was not achieved, surgeons around the world hailed the transplant as a massive breakthrough.
Womb Transplants In The U.S.
In 2006/2007, U.S. surgeons were granted permission to start seeking a suitable recipient for what they hoped would be the world's first womb transplant to result in a successful pregnancy. They planned to use a womb donated by a deceased woman. Fertility doctors said they intended to wait three months after the transplant to be sure whether or not it would be safe for a pregnancy to proceed. They would then use IVF and embryo transfer techniques in an effort to help the would-be mother conceive. If pregnancy was achieved, the baby would have be to born by caesarean section. It was assumed that the transplant womb would not be strong enough to withstand a natural labour. The womb would probably be removed at the same time as the C-section was carried out. This would mean that the woman could then stop taking the required immunosuppressant drugs. She would have achieved her goal, to have a child, and it would therefore no longer be ethical to keep her on drug treatment which was not necessary for her health. As of yet, no baby has been born as a result a womb transplant, either in the United States or elsewhere.
Womb Transplants In The UK
Surgeons in London are also hoping to be the first to help a woman out of infertility by giving her a successful womb transplant. The British doctors have said that they've carried out successful transplants on animals in laboratory tests. Like their American counterparts, they plan to use a womb from a deceased donor. This is because previous surgeries failed in which a womb was donated by a close, living, female relative of the recipient to reduce the chances of the recipient's body rejecting the womb. It was not possible to take enough of the womb's surrounding tissue for a successful transplant from a live donor. The UK doctors propose leaving the womb inside the recipient for two or three years and allow the woman to have one or two pregnancies before the womb would be removed and the immunosuppressant drug treatment stopped. We are still waiting to hear of a successful birth.