Many women out there dream of having children, but because of either genetic factors that see them born without a uterus or without a functioning uterus, or traumatic hysterectomies, that dream seems like it will never be a reality.
Uterus transplants are not a new procedure by any means, but an increasing number of successful studies indicate that they may very well be the key to fertility in the future. This means that women who don’t have a uterus themselves can still experience the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth in their own body.
In Sweden in 2014, successful womb transplants were performed on nine women, most of whom were in their 30s. The women all received uteruses from women who were blood relatives, after having had their own uteruses removed, or having been born without them.
All the women received periods within a few weeks of the procedure, showing the new wombs were working. Of the nine women, five delivered healthy babies, and one woman is even pregnant for the second time.
United States Trial
A similar trial was undertaken in the United States last year, marking the first time that living-donor womb transplants have been performed in that country. Four American women received womb transplants at Baylor University Medical Centre in Dallas in September of last year.
While the trial didn’t have the same success rate as its Swedish counterpart, with three of the four wombs removed after tests showed they weren’t being properly supplied with blood, doctors are still confident in the procedure.
Dr. Giuliano Testa, the lead surgeon and surgical chief of abdominal transplantation at Baylor, said that while the results had been disappointing, the progress was clear.
“If you look at this from the science [perspective], it’s something we’ve learned a lot from, and we have a patient who is doing well,” he says. “This is the beginning of hopefully a great history for medicine.”
All of the women involved in the US trial were born without a uterus, something that affects around one in 4,500 women. A statement from Baylor University indicated that all of the women in the trial received their transplants from altruistic donors. This means that the donor women aren’t relatives of the recipients, and do not know them at all. Incredibly, around 50 women volunteered to donate their womb.
“I am totally amazed by that,” Testa said in speaking with Time Magazine. “They told us, ‘We had our chance to become mothers, and now we have this uterus and it’s not doing anything for us. We can put this uterus to use for people who really need it.’ That struck me as a physician. These women are phenomenal.”
The Future For Womb Transplants
As far as medical procedures go, womb transplants are in the very early days. The procedure is a complicated one, meaning that only very skilled surgeons would think of attempting it. At the moment, there have been no transplants undertaken in Australia, but criticisms are already rolling in.
Some health experts believe the womb transplants aren’t fair on live donors, due to the volume of tissue that needs to be removed during the procedures. Others believe that they do not really provide recipients with a real pregnancy and birth experience due to the necessity of it being highly medicalised, involving both IVF and a C-section delivery.
However, for the women out there who have undergone traumatic hysterectomies or who were born without a uterus, the procedure is a glimmering light in the future, a hope for children yet to be.