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
The women were 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's possible to
transplant wombs into women so they can give birth to their own children.
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 further
and raise some new concerns.
Two previous attempts
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 also
planning similar operations, but the efforts in Sweden are the most advanced.
"This is a new kind of
surgery," Dr Mats Brannstrom told The Associated Press in an interview
from Goteborg. "We have no textbook to look at."
Brannstrom, chair of the
obstetrics and gynaecology department at the University of Gothenburg, is
leading the initiative. Next month, he and colleagues will run the first-ever
workshop on how to perform womb transplants and they plan to publish a scientific
report on their efforts soon.
Recipients doing well
He said the nine womb
recipients were doing well. Many already had their periods six weeks after the
transplants, an early sign that the wombs are healthy and functioning. One
woman had an infection in her newly received uterus and others had some minor
rejection episodes, but none of the recipients or donors needed intensive care
after the surgery, Brannstrom said. All left the hospital within days.
None of the women who
donated or received wombs have been identified. The transplants began in
September 2012 and the donors include mothers and other female relatives of the
recipients. The team had initially planned to do 10 transplants, but one woman
couldn't proceed due to medical reasons, university spokesman Krister Svahn
The transplant operations
did not connect any of 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 can make 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.
The transplants have
ignited hope among women unable to have children because they lost a uterus to
cancer or were born without one. About one in 4 500 girls are born with a
syndrome, known as MRKH, where they don't have a womb.
Fertility experts have
hailed the project as significant but stress it's unknown whether the
transplants will result in healthy babies.
Anti-rejection drugs important
All of the women who
received womb transplants will need to take anti-rejection medicine.
Brannstrom said using live
donors allowed them to ensure the donated wombs were functional and didn't have
any problems like an HPV infection.
Doctors in Saudi Arabia
performed the first womb transplant in 2000, using a live donor, but that
uterus had to be removed after three months because of a blood clot.
Embryos the next step
Brannstrom said he and his
colleagues hope to start transferring embryos into some of their patients soon,
possibly within months. The Swedish researchers and others have previously
reported successful uterus transplants in animals including mice, sheep and
baboons, but no offspring from the primates were produced.
After a maximum of two
pregnancies, the wombs will be removed so the women can stop taking the
anti-rejection drugs, which can cause high blood pressure, swelling and
diabetes and may also raise the risk of some types of cancer.
Alternative for women
Other experts said if the
operations are successful, womb transplants could be an alternative for women
who have few choices.
"What remains to be
seen is whether this is a viable option or if this is going to be confined to
research and limited experimentation," said Dr Yacoub Khalaf, director of
the Assisted Conception unit at Guy's and St. Thomas' hospital in London, who
was unconnected to any of the womb transplant projects.
"If this had been
possible when I was younger, no doubt I would have been interested," she
said. Gime, who has two foster children, said the only option for women like
her to have biological children is via surrogacy, which is illegal in many
European countries, including Norway and Sweden.
Womb transplant, hope for women
Womb transplants on the cards