The UK’s first womb transplant is set to take place next year as part of a clinical trial in which 10 women will get the chance to carry their own babies.
Following the birth of a baby boy last year after a successful procedure in Sweden, the Health Research Authority has granted ethical approval for 10 transplants. The first British baby born from a transplanted womb could arrive as soon as late 2017 or 2018.
More than 100 women have been identified as potential recipients of transplants for a team of surgeons to be led by Dr Richard Smith.
About one in 5,000 women – or 50,000 of childbearing age in the UK – were born without a womb, while some cancer sufferers have had theirs removed.
Smith said the technique would offer hope to women who could only have children through adoption or surrogacy. The consultant gynaecologist at the Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea hospital, who has been working on the project for almost 20 years, said he was “really, really pleased” to obtain ethical approval for the transplants.
“For many couples, childlessness is a disaster. Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women,” he said.
“Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that women have to carry their own baby. For a woman to carry her own baby – that has to be a wonderful thing.”
To take part in the trial a woman must be aged between 25 and 38, have functioning ovaries and their own eggs, a long-term partner and be a healthy weight. Only a third of the 300 women who approached the Womb Transplant UKteam met the criteria.
Before the trial starts, embryos will be created and frozen using each woman’s eggs and sperm from her partner. They will then undergo a six-hour operation to receive a womb from a donor who is classed as braindead but who has been kept alive.
Smith said using deceased donors reflected the complexities of the operation.
“Donor retrieval is a bigger operation than transplanting the uterus into the recipient,” the surgeon said. “We don’t want to subject a live donor to that operation.”
Organ donor coordinators have suggested that about five wombs annually could be made available.
After 12 months on immunosuppressant drugs and close monitoring, each woman will be implanted with one of her embryos, with the hope of achieving a successful pregnancy.
A baby would be delivered by caesarean section to prevent the donor womb suffering the trauma of labour.
Six months after giving birth, each woman can try for another child, or the womb will be removed. That would minimise the risk of keeping women on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives.
However, the trial needs to raise £500,000 before any operations can take place.
“I’ve always been an enormous optimist,” Smith said. “The project has run with no money from the start. Somehow or other, somebody has always turned up and given us enough money to keep it going.”
Just over £40,000 has been donated to the Womb Transplant UK project andcontributions can be made here.
A 36-year-old Swedish woman gave birth to a baby boy in September 2014 after receiving a donor womb from a 61-year-old family friend who had given birth to two sons. She and her partner – both competitive athletes – named the baby Vincent, which means “to win” in Latin.
“As soon as I felt this perfect baby boy on my chest, I had tears of happiness and enormous relief,” the mother said. She had been told at the age of 15 that she did not have a womb.