Womb Transplants A Success For 9 Women In Sweden, But Surgery Raises Ethical Concerns

on January 13 2014 3:00 PM
Womb Transplant
Surgeons completed the womb transplants in September 2012. University of Gothenberg

Swedish surgeons have announced the successful transplant of nine donated wombs in women. The program began in September 2012 and the women have suffered no serious setback and will try to get pregnant in the coming months.

Mats Brannstrom, from the University of Gothenburg, is leading the womb transplant program, reports the Associated Press. The women in the program are in their 30s and had their uterus removed due to cervical cancer or were born without one, known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser, MRKH syndrome. MRKH syndrome affects 1 in 4,500 women. The donated wombs came from relatives of the women and will attempt to get pregnant via in-vitro fertilization.

Womb transplants, thus far, are incredibly rare and have been unsuccessful in their attempts to get the participating women pregnant. AP reports there have been only two womb transplants prior to the Swedish program, in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish transplant was a success and the woman, Derya Sert, was able to get pregnant but had to terminate the pregnancy after eight weeks. The surgeons from Akdeniz University Hospital said the fetal heartbeat had stopped.

The transplants occurred between Sept. 15 and Sept. 15, 2013 and included the first mother-to-daughter uterus transplantation, notes the University of Gothenburg. According to the press release, womb transplants could help 2,000 to 3,000 women in Sweden do not have a uterus.

Prior to the surgery, embryos, using eggs removed from the women, were created via IVF and frozen, reports AP. The embryos were frozen and will be transferred into the transplanted wombs. Following the transplants, a few women had minor transplant rejection episodes and one woman had an infection but all left the hospital shortly after the surgery.

A similar womb transplant program in the UK is currently raising funds for the project but will use wombs from deceased or dying individuals whereas Brannstrom and his team used live donations which require more extensive surgery. AP likens the procedure to a radical hysterectomy and the increased amount of blood vessels removed from the donor increases the risk factor of the surgery.

The added risk for the donor has led to some ethical concerns over the procedure as womb transplants are not considered life-saving surgeries, notes AP. Richard Smith, heading Womb Transplant UK, states he is using cadaver wombs due to the ethical concerns. Smith said to the AP, “Mats has done something amazing and we understand completely why he has taken this route, but we are wary of that approach.

The anti-rejection medication taken by the women are not believed to add any risk to the pregnancy. Brannstrom wants to begin the embryo transfer process in the next few months and the women will have a maximum of two pregnancies before the transplanted wombs are removed, notes AP.