UK Womb Transplant Trials Given Go-Ahead
Thousands upon thousands of women are either born without a uterus or have it removed for health-related reasons. This has massive implications for their ability to have children, as you can imagine. Their only options are adoption or using a surrogate mother.
But following success in Sweden last year, a team of doctors has been granted approval by the Health Research Authority (HRA) to carry the UK’s first womb transplants. Ten women will be selected as part of a clinical trial launching in spring.
Dr Richard Smith is a consultant gynaecologist at Imperial College London’s Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital. He has been working on this project for nearly 20 years and will lead the transplant team from Womb Transplant UK.
So, what’s the process?
All in all, the operation takes about six hours to complete, with the uterus coming from a donor who is technically dead but whose heart has been kept beating.
This is in contrast to Sweden where the wombs were donated by live donors, but the decision in the UK was reached as the operation to remove a womb is very high-risk and complex.
As with any transplant, the recipient will need to take immunosuppressant drugs for the whole time she has the womb and throughout any potential pregnancy. This is to prevent the chance of the body rejecting the donor organ.
The patient’s own eggs and her partner’s sperm will be combined to create an embryo before the trials begin. Her health will then be closely monitored for a year before the embryo is implanted using IVF treatment.
Assuming all goes well, the baby will be delivered by Caesarian section eight months later.
And then, just six months after giving birth, each couple will be given the option of trying for one more baby. The womb will then be removed by a team of surgeons and the patients can live out the rest of their days with the family they thought they would never have.
The womb will only be donated to the patient for the purpose of allowing her to have her own children, and as soon as it’s fulfilled its purpose, it will be removed.
It might sound confusing to donate an organ to someone only to remove it a couple of years later, but it’s actually in the best interests of the patient. If there is no organ for her body to reject, she won’t have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of her life.
Patients in the trial must all meet certain criteria set out by Dr Smith and his team at Womb Transplant UK. This includes being under the age of 39, having a long-term partner, and being of a healthy weight. More than 300 women have already approached the team, of which 104 qualify.
So far, the project has been self-funded and supported by public donations, which for the moment will allow the team to carry out two procedures. Each procedure costs in the region of £50,000, but none of the women in the trial will have to pay for their own participation.
Dr Smith described himself as an “enormous optimist”. This could be down to the project running on no money from the start, but someone always coming along at the right moment to provide enough funding to keep it going.
He added that despite “quite a lot of crisis” with the project, the team has pushed on because of what it would mean for so many people.
“Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that some women have to carry their own baby,” he said. “For a woman to carry her own baby, that has to be a wonderful thing.”
The British Fertility Society Chairperson, Professor Adam Balen, welcomed the news. “The UK have been working on this for many years,” he said, “so it’s very exciting that they’ve been given the go-ahead to move to clinical practice.”
If you want to donate to this amazing cause, you can do so by visiting the Womb Transplant UK website here.