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Updated 02 December 2015

Male pregnancy is closer than you might think

A medical breakthrough in female fertility could soon allow men to become pregnant and have babies.

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When the Cleveland Clinic in the United States announced it would be performing uterus transplant surgeries on women who were born without a womb, or whose uteri are malfunctioning, many people began to wonder if this medical progression could be replicated in men.

The greatest missing link

Yahoo Health has reported that the answer to this is yes. In theory it is possible for men to receive a uterus, carry a baby to term and give birth. The era of male pregnancy is closer than one might think. 

“My guess is five, ten years away, maybe sooner,” says Dr Karine Chung, director of the fertility preservation programme at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “Today, medical advances allow transgender women adjust their biochemistry to suppress male hormones and introduce female hormones, have breasts that can lactate, and obtain surgically constructed vaginas that include a 'neoclitoris', which allows sensation.”

Read: How Bruce Jenner transitioned into a woman

The greatest missing link to date has been the place where the foetus would actually be carried – a womb – but now it appears that uterus transplants would be bridging this “unconceivable” gap.

Dr Christine McGinn, plastic surgeon and CEO of Papillon Gender Wellness Centre,  who performs transgender surgeries on men and women and is a consultant to the new movie The Danish Girl, which is about one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery says: “I bet just about every transgender person who is female will want to do it, if it were covered by insurance.”

McGinn, a transgender woman and mother of twins, says the "human drive to be a mother for a woman is a very serious thing. Transgender women are no different".

Extensive research is still being conducted for women suffering from uterine factor infertility (UFI). In Sweden uterus transplants have successfully been completed in a study where nine women received uterus transplants, five became pregnant and four have given birth thus far. It has been reported that soon the Cleveland Clinic team will be selecting ten women suffering from UFI to receive uteri transplants from deceased donors.

'Ephemeral' transplants

Surgeons say that these women would have to undergo extensive fertility treatment because the surgically implanted uterus will not be attached to the fallopian tubes, which are the tubes connected to the ovaries that supply the eggs necessary for conception.

See more: How human reproduction works

Because of the huge risk of infection with transplant surgeries, it is strictly required and recommended that the women take immunosuppressant medication so that their bodies do not reject the organ. There are no real, clear findings on how this medication would affect the developing foetus, but increased infection risk and preterm delivery side-effects have been pre-empted.

"Unlike any other transplants, they are 'ephemeral'," said Cleveland Clinic lead researcher Andreas Tzakis. "They are not intended to last for the duration of the recipient's life, but will be maintained for only as long as is necessary to produce one or two children."

Cleveland Centre has already screened eight women between the ages 21 – 39 years for the study, and plans have been made to expect the transplant procedures within the next few months. Numerous medical techniques exist today that tackle the many obstacles to male pregnancy. For starters hormone therapy can shut off testosterone and introduce the progesterone and oestrogen needed to prepare the uterus for pregnancy.

Read: Why some women grow a beard

However, according to Yahoo health women have the upper hand when it comes to accepting and nurturing transplanted uteri. This is predominantly based upon the fact that women already have certain factors such as the vagina, cervix and natural hormones that aid in preparing the uterus for implantation and support the pregnancy.

“Of course men have none of these support systems – naturally – but none are impossible to create. Male and female anatomy is not that different,” says Chung. “Probably at some point, somebody will figure out how to make that work.”

Read more: 

Why some women grow a beard

Healthy lifestyle can boost fertility for women with PCOS

Type of meat can affect a man's fertility

Image: Hairy hands around belly from iStock

 

More:

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