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Ear to the Ground

Swedes Lead the Way in Womb Transplants

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Posted on Jan 13, 2014
a11sus (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In Sweden, several women, most in their 30s and without a uterus due to medical reasons, are exploring a new way to possibly have children.

Nine women who were born without a uterus or lost theirs to cancer have been given relatives’ wombs in an attempt to conceive children. Dr. Mats Brannstrom, the head of this groundbreaking new experiment, predicts optimistically that all nine will soon be getting pregnant, though he remains reluctant to offer any guarantees. Although other surgeons in Saudi Arabia and Turkey have made attempts to transplant wombs, none was able to see the fruits of their labors, so to speak.

Similar experiments to Brannstrom’s are being carried out in Britain, Hungary and other places, but it seems the operations in Sweden are the most advanced, and most likely to lead to pregnancy. According to The Guardian:

[Brannstrom] said the nine womb recipients were doing well. Many had had periods six weeks after the transplants, an early sign that the wombs were 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 has 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 could not proceed for medical reasons, the university spokesman Krister Svahn said.

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 of them 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.

About one in 4,500 girls are born with a syndrome known as MRKH, which means they do not have a womb.

Fertility experts have hailed the project as significant but stress that it is unknown whether the transplants will result in healthy babies.

The technique used in Sweden, using live donors, is somewhat 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. ...

Smith said the biggest question was how any pregnancies would proceed.

“The principal concern for me is if the baby will get enough nourishment from the placenta and if the blood flow is good enough,” he said.

All of the women who received womb transplants will need to take anti-rejection medicines, but Smith said data from women who had received kidney transplants did not suggest their babies were at any increased risk from the drugs.

Brannstrom said using live donors allowed them to ensure the donated wombs were functional and did not have any problems such as an HPV infection.

But apparently the uteruses are not for keeps. Brannstrom explains that after a maximum of two pregnancies the loaner wombs will be removed so that the women can cease their anti-rejection drug intake. Those medicines can cause terrible side effects such as diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.

What now remains to be seen, the good doctor says, is whether these experiments will lead to successful childbirth or will simply be filed in the annals of science.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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