Despite the cost and complexity, womb transplants are happening

You’ll never guess whose womb I’ve got.
You’ll never guess whose womb I’ve got.
Image: Reuters/Enrique Castro-Mendivil
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Ten British women with no viable wombs will get the opportunity to give birth to their own baby, thanks to a pioneering transplant technique. Doctors from Imperial College London have just got the go ahead to begin a clinical trial to carry out the 10 womb transplant and, if successful, Britain could see its first baby born to womb transplant by late 2017 or 2018.

Womb transplants have already been successfully performed elsewhere. Last year, Swedish doctors reported the first birth from a transplanted womb. The 36-year-old Swede had received her new womb from a 61-year-old family friend. The transplant showed that the age of the donor doesn’t actually matter, it’s the eggs that are of bigger concern for doctors.

“We have evidence showing that a 70-year-old’s uterus will function like a 20-year-old’s,” Ash Hanafy, a uterus-transplant obstetrician from Griffith University, told New Scientist.

Womb Transplant UK, who will be leading the trial, currently has 104 potential transplant patients that have met their requirements. Those selected will first have to undergo psychological, physical, and medical assessments. The patient’s egg would then be removed, as well as the partner’s sperm, to create an embryo, which is frozen. Unlike the Swedish procedure, British doctors will extract the womb from a clinically brain dead donor.

Once the transplant is complete, the patient will be on immunosuppressant drugs to reduce the chances of her body rejecting the donated womb. Doctors will closely monitor the patient for 12 months before they transfer the embryo into the uterus. The womb will be removed six to twelve months after the patient has given birth, to avoid keeping the patient on immunosuppressant drugs.

According to Womb Transplant UK, around 50,000 women of childbearing age in the UK have no viable wombs. One in 5,000 women are born without a womb, while 1,650 women have to get their wombs removed as a result of cervical cancer. The options for these women are quite limited—they can either choose to adopt a child or get a surrogate mother.

Womb Transplant UK insists the need for womb transplant is high, but so are the costs. The charity launched an appeal to raise the £500,000 ($758,532) needed for the 10 operations.