Uterus transplants research to make motherhood dream a possibility

The joy of holding your baby.
The joy of holding your baby. Image borrowed.

Every mother would tell you that holding a baby in their arms after the pain of childbirth was such a magical moment. What of those women who cannot carry pregnancies due to lack of a uterus?

A US based clinic, Cleveland Clinic has begun screening candidates for a pioneering clinical trial of uterus transplantation in women of reproductive age with uterine factor infertility (UFI). Women with UFI cannot carry a pregnancy because they were either born without a uterus, they had it surgically removed or their uterus no longer functions due to injury.

Hysterectomy is a major operation to remove a woman’s uterus. It is carried out to treat various problems associated with periods, pelvic pain, tumors and other related conditions. This is a major cause of women not having their uterus. Thanks to technology, these women might have some hope of the magical moments associated with childbirth.

A multidisciplinary team of gynecologists, researchers and transplant surgeons are actively pursuing a uterus transplant as a potential method for women with UFI to be able to carry a child in a transplanted womb.

According to the NY Times, uterine transplantation is a new frontier, one that pairs specialists from two fields known for innovation and for pushing limits, medically and ethically -reproductive medicine and transplant surgery. If the procedure works, many women could benefit from it.

The recipients who are expected to be healthy women, will face the risks of surgery and anti-rejection drugs for a transplant that they do not need to save their lives. Their pregnancies will be considered high-risk, with fetuses exposed to anti-rejection drugs and developing inside a womb taken from a dead woman.

Sweden is the only country where uterine transplants have been completed successfully — all at the University of Gothenburg with a uterus from a live donor. Nine women have had them, and four have given birth, the first in September 2014. Another is due in January. Their babies were born healthy, though premature. Two transplants failed and had to be removed, one because of a blood clot and the other because of infection.

Then doctors will implant one embryo at a time in the uterus, until the recipient becomes pregnant. The baby will be delivered by cesarean section before the due date, to protect the transplanted uterus from the strain of labor. After giving birth, the mother can either keep the uterus so she can try to have one more baby (two is the limit, for safety reasons), or have it removed so she can stop taking the anti-rejection drugs.

Though this is a clinical trial, it sheds some hope to women desiring to carry their own babies. It would be interesting to follow the outcome of the research.

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