It sounds alternately like a fascinating medical breakthrough and a science fiction plot. In a medical first, a healthy baby was born to a woman who was a of a womb transplant recipient.
The 36-year-old women in Sweden, who received a uterus from a family friend last year, gave birth to a healthy, albeit premature, baby boy last month. Mother and child are now home and doctors are heralding the success of their pioneering efforts. Dr Mats Brannstrom, professor of obstetrics at the University of Gothenberg, who spearheaded the experimental fertility project, believes that the technique could help other women become pregnant.
Brannstrom and colleagues have conducted nine womb transplants in the past two year last two years as part of a trial. The recipients had all been born without a uterus and had it removed because of cancer. Complications forced two of the transplanted organs to be removed. The other seven transplants were successfully accepted, and Brannstrom began implanting embryos into the seven remaining women. The results led to the delivery last month and there are reportedly two other women who are at least 25 weeks along in pregnancies.
The Swedish uterus transplant efforts were not the first attempts. There were womb transplants conducted before this in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but no live births came from those operations. Doctors in several other countries are planning to try similar operations. However, the sources of the wombs vary in the attempts.
In most of the countries, the doctors are harvesting the wombs from women who have just died, much like other organs are harvested. The Swedish women who successfully gave birth received the uterus from a 61-year-old woman who have given birth to two children and then gone through menopause. There was some uncertainty of success given the age of the uterus, but the medical team felt the fact that the womb was healthy was the primary consideration.
To prevent her body from rejecting the transplanted organ, the recipient had to take three medications. Iit took about six weeks after the transplant before she got a menstrual period, which indicated that the uterus was beginning to perform normally. The doctors waited one year before they implanted an embryo they created using her husband’s sperm and an egg from the woman.
The doctors have indicated that the woman did experience three mild rejection episodes, including one during the pregnancy. However, they were all successfully handled with medications. The mother developed preeclampsia around her 31st week of pregnancy and the fetus experienced an abnormal heart rate, so the doctors conducted a cesarean section. While the boy only weighed 3.9 pounds at that point, all development was normal and the baby was sent home 10 days later.
The parents have not been identified, but the father has stated that the child “will have a good story to tell.” He noted that his son could look at the newspaper articles and read about the fact that he was the first in the world born through such a procedure.
Brannstrom cautioned that the doctors are concerned about whether there might have been damage to the womb during the C-section. He indicated that they would not know for at least a couple of months whether the mother could attempt to use the uterus for a second pregnancy.
By Dyanne Weiss