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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

British Doctors Get Go-Ahead To Carry Out Womb Transplants For First Time

If the procedures are successful, 10 British women could have babies from transplanted wombs by the end of 2017.

Ten British women are to have the UK’s first womb transplants, in a clinical trial that was approved following a successful procedure in Sweden.

Doctors at Imperial College London have been granted ethical approval by the NHS’s Health Research Authority to operate on the women. The surgeries will go ahead in the next few months, and the recipients will be observed for 12 months to ensure that the wombs are not rejected.

If the operations are successful, the first children born in Britain from implanted wombs could arrive, via caesarian section, by 2017.

The transplant will be carried out by a team led by Dr Richard Smith, a gynaecologist at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, London. Smith has been involved in efforts to bring about womb transplants for nearly 20 years.

The transplant team have had more than 300 applications from women, of whom 104 meet the criteria. Those criteria include having a long-term partner, being of a healthy weight, and being under the age of 39.

There are around 5,000 women of childbearing age in the UK who were born without a womb – about one woman in every 4,500 – and more have to have theirs removed surgically to prevent the spread of cancer. Until now the only options for those women to become parents have been adoption or using another woman as a surrogate mother. Smith said in a statement: “For many couples, childlessness is a disaster. Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women.

“Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that women have to carry their own baby. For a woman to carry her own baby – that has to be a wonderful thing.”

Prof Adam Balen, a consultant in reproductive medicine and the chair of the British Fertility Society, told BuzzFeed News that “the fact that this research is being put into clinical practice in the UK is excellent news”.

He warned that there were dangers as well as benefits, in that patients will have to take drugs to suppress their immune system, which could make them and their babies more vulnerable to infections.

“[There is a question over whether it is] appropriate to expose a baby to immunosuppressive therapy for the sake of a uterus, when you can have babies born through surrogacy,” he said. “Having said that, I see patients for whom surrogacy just isn’t an option for their own ethical, moral, or sometimes religious reasons.”

He also said that due to the shortage of donors, this procedure would be unlikely to be a solution for every woman who lacks a womb. “Not having a womb is more common than people think, and I don’t think this is going to become a very common procedure.”

The Swedish baby, which has just had its first birthday, was born using a womb donated by a living friend of the patient. The British patients will all be given wombs from brain-dead donors.

Six months after the birth, the patients will be able to either try for another baby or have the womb removed so that they can come off the immunosuppressant drugs. Balen told BuzzFeed News that although in theory the wombs could be used in new patients, in practice the blood vessels would likely be “knackered” and they would only be used once each.


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