Uterine transplantation

The uterine transplant is the surgical procedure whereby a healthy uterus is transplanted into a female organism of which the uterus is absent or diseased. As part of normal mammalian sexual reproduction, a diseased or absent uterus does not allow normal embryonic implantation, effectively rendering the female infertile. This phenomenon is known as absolute uterine factor infertility (AUFI). Uterine transplant is a potential treatment for this form of infertility.In 1896 Emil Knauer, a 29-year-old Austrian working in one of Vienna's gynecological clinics, published the first study of ovarian autotransplantation documenting normal function in a rabbit. This led to the investigation of uterine transplantation in 1918. In 1964 and 1966, Eraslan, Hamernik and Hardy, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, were the first to perform an animal (dog) autotransplantation of the uterus and subsequently deliver a pregnancy from that uterus. In 2010 Diaz-Garcia and co-workers, at Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Gothenburg in Sweden, demonstrated the world's first successful allogenic uterus transplantation, in a rat, with healthy offspring.

First successful pregnancy

In October 2014 it was announced that, for the first time, a healthy baby had been born to a uterine transplant recipient, at an undisclosed location in Sweden. The British medical journal The Lancet reported that the baby boy had been born in September, weighing 1.8 kg (3.9 lb) and that the father had said his son was "amazing". The baby had been delivered prematurely at about 32 weeks, by cesarean section, after the mother had developed pre-eclampsia. The Swedish woman, aged 36, had received a uterus in 2013, from a live 61 year old donor, in an operation led by Dr. Brännström, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Gothenburg.

The woman had healthy ovaries but was born without a uterus, a condition that affects about one in 4,500 women. The procedure used an embryo from a laboratory, created using the woman's ovum and her husband's sperm, which was then implanted into the transplanted uterus. The uterus may have been damaged in the course of the caesarian delivery and it may or may not be suitable for future pregnancies. A regimen of triple immuno-suppression was used with tacrolimus, azathioprine, and corticosteroids. Three mild rejection episodes occurred, one during the pregnancy, but were all successfully suppressed with medication. Some other women were also reported to be pregnant at that time using transplanted uteri. The unnamed mother, who received a donated womb from a friend, said that she hoped the treatment would be refined to help others in the future.

The transplant is intended to be temporary – the recipient will undergo a hysterectomy after one or two successful pregnancies. This is to avoid the need for her to take immunosuppressive drugs for life with a consequent increased risk of infection.

The uterus transplantation research project at the University of Gothenburg, which started in 1999, has been evaluated in over 40 scientific articles. The procedure remains the last resort – it is expensive and not likely to be covered by insurance and, unlike other methods of fertility assistance and treatment, is a relatively new and somewhat experimental procedure, performed only by certain specialist surgeons in select centres, in which the attendant risks of a relatively invasive organ transplant operation, including infection and organ rejection. Some ethics specialists regard the risks to a live donor, as opposed to a post-mortem donor, as being too great, and some find the entire procedure ethically questionable, especially since the transplant is not a life-saving procedure.