Womb transplants not far away: UK scientists

Alternative to surrogacy

Experts believe the first successful human womb transplant could be carried out within two years — if they can raise enough money. The Guardian

They have worked out how to transplant a womb with a good blood supply which could mean it lasts long enough to carry a pregnancy to term.

A breakthrough would offer an alternative to surrogacy or adoption for women whose own wombs have been damaged by diseases such as cervical cancer.

Around 15,000 women of childbearing age are currently living with a womb that does not work or were born without one. Richard Smith, gynaecological surgeon at the  Hammersmith hospital in London, who presented his latest research on rabbits at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference in Atlanta fertility conference said more than 50 women have approached him. He and colleagues need cash to move their research forward but have been denied grants by several medical research bodies – the team needs £25,000 for the next stage of research and £250,000 to complete a set of studies.

The experts have set up a charity – Uterine Transplant UK – and believe the first successful human transplant could be carried out within two years if they raise enough funds. Their most recent study involved five donor rabbits and five recipients, which were operated on at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

Five rabbits received a womb using a “vascular patch technique” which connected major blood vessels, including the aorta. Of the five, two rabbits lived to 10 months and examinations after death showed the transplants were a success.

Smith’s next step is to get rabbits pregnant through IVF to see how the womb copes, before moving on to larger animals. Previous animal attempts have failed and the only human-to-human transplant ended with the womb having to be removed.

Saudi surgeons gave a 26-year-old woman a new uterus in 2000 after her own was removed following a life-threatening haemorrhage. The womb shrivelled within a few months. Smith believes this was because surgeons had not worked out how to connect the blood vessels properly.

His own previous research relied on blood vessels that were too small, which then became blocked.

The latest experiment involved transplanting the womb with all its arteries, veins and bigger vessels.

Smith said: “I think there are certain technical issues to be ironed out but I think the crux of how to carry out a successful graft that's properly vascularised – I think we have cracked that one.”

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