Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Doctors in a Swedish medical initiative have announced that nine women have received successful womb transplants. The recipients were either born without a womb or had theirs removed due to cervical cancer.
While doctors have been performing successful transplants of other organs for years, the newly developed procedure marks a shift toward performing these operations with the focus primarily being on a quality of life issue like child bearing.
Some critics have raised ethical concerns over subjecting live donors to an experimental operation that is not a life-saving procedure. However, John Harris, a bioethics expert at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, supported the Swedish team by pointing out to the AP that kidney transplants aren’t necessarily life-saving, yet widely promoted.
“Dialysis is available, but we have come to accept and to even encourage people to take risks to donate a kidney,” he said.
According to Brannstrom, the nine recipients are doing well. Some of the women starting having a regular menstrual period six weeks after the operation – a sign the wombs are in good physical shape and working. The obstetrician said some of the women had minor issues, but none of the recipients or donors required intensive care after the procedure.
The procedures did not include linking the women’s wombs to their fallopian tubes, meaning they cannot get pregnant from natural means. Before the procedure, uterus recipients had some of their ova removed and fertilized via in-vitro fertilization. The fertilized embryos were then frozen and placed in storage until the women are ready to receive them. This means the womb recipients will be able to carry their own biological children.
Some fertility experts praised the work of the Swedish team, but expressed concerns over whether the transplants will result in healthy babies.
UK doctors are also planning to perform a similar procedure, but they are expected to only use wombs from dying or dead women. Turkish doctors announced last year that a patient who received a uterus was able to get pregnant, but the pregnancy failed after two months.
“Mats has done something amazing and we understand completely why he has taken this route, but we are wary of that approach,” said Dr. Richard Smith, head of the charity Womb Transplant UK, which is pushing to raise over $820,000 to perform five transplant operations.
He said that UK officials don’t consider a transplant to be ethical if the procedure isn’t life-saving. Smith added that he was more worried about medical, than ethical, issues.
“The principal concern for me is if the baby will get enough nourishment from the placenta and if the blood flow is good enough,” he said.
Brannstrom said the womb transplants might not result in children being born, but remained positive that it would happen.
“This is a research study,” he said. “It could lead to (the women) having children, but there are no guarantees.”