Nine women in Sweden have successfully received transplanted wombs donated from relatives and will soon try to become pregnant, the doctor in charge of the pioneering project has revealed.
Each of the women was either born without a uterus or had it removed because of cervical cancer. Most are in their 30s and are part of the first major experiment to test whether it is possible to transplant wombs into women so they can give birth.
Life-saving transplants of organs such as hearts, livers and kidneys have been done for decades and doctors are increasingly transplanting hands, faces and other body parts to improve patients’ quality of life. Womb transplants – the first ones intended to be temporary, just to allow childbearing – push that frontier even farther.
There have been two previous attempts to transplant a womb, in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but both failed to produce babies. Scientists in Britain, Hungary and elsewhere are planning similar operations but the efforts in Sweden are the most advanced.
“This is a new kind of surgery,” Dr Mats Brannstrom said in Gothenburg. “We have no textbook to look at.”
Dr Brannstrom, chairman of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the University of Gothenburg, is leading the initiative. The team plans to publish a scientific report on their efforts soon.
Dr Brannstrom said the recipients are doing well. Six weeks after the transplants, many of the women had had their period, an early sign that the wombs are healthy and functioning.
The transplants began in September 2012 and the donors include mothers and other relatives of the recipients.
The transplant operations did not connect the women’s uteruses to their fallopian tubes, so they are unable to get pregnant naturally. But all who received a womb have their own ovaries and thus their own eggs. Before the operation, they had some removed to create embryos through in vitro fertilisation. The embryos were then frozen and doctors plan to transfer them into the new wombs, allowing the women to carry their own biological children.
However, it is unknown whether the transplants will result in healthy babies.
The transplants have ignited hope among women unable to have children because they have no uterus. About one in girl in 4,500 is born with a syndrome known as MRKH, where she doesn’t have a womb.
Lise Gimre, 35, who was born without a womb, runs an organisation for women with the syndrome in Norway. She said: “If this had been possible when I was younger, no doubt I would have been interested.”
Ms Gimre, who has two foster children, said the only option for women like her to have biological children is via surrogacy – illegal in many countries.
The technique used in Sweden, using live donors, is controversial. In Britain, doctors are also planning to perform uterus transplants, but will only use wombs from dying or dead people. That was also the case in Turkey. Last year, Turkish doctors announced their patient got pregnant but the pregnancy failed after two months.