Medical first for woman who gives birth after womb transplant

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The doctor, who performed this pioneering surgical procedure, has confirmed that a woman in Sweden has given birth after undergoing a womb transplant.

The 36-year-old female received a donor uterus from a close family friend during last year. Although her baby boy was born prematurely, he was in good health. Both mother and son have returned home from the hospital and are doing well. The identities of the parents of the baby have not been disclosed.

Dr Mats Brannstrom, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Gothenburg and Stockholm IVF, led the research and also delivered the baby with assistance from his wife who is a midwife. He said the baby is fantastic, but above all the joy of the parents made it all worthwhile. He said the fact that they have actually done this successfully is still sinking in.

The proud parents said the years of experimentation and research were worth the wait.

This procedure opens a new, although experimental, alternative for the thousands of women who are not able to have children due to having lost a uterus to cancer or by being born without one. Prior to this particular case proving that the concept works, many experts questioned whether a transplanted uterus would be able to provide nourishment to a foetus. Many have also questioned if this expensive and risky medical procedure would be a realistic option for many females.

The past president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies and a Cornell University fertility specialist, Dr Glenn Schattman, said this procedure will more than likely remain a rare event. He said it would not be done unless there were no other options as it is a long surgical procedure and carries many complications and risks.

Brannstrom and his colleagues transplanted nine wombs over the past two year period, but two had to be removed due to complications. Brannstrom began the transfer of embryos into the other seven females earlier this, two of which are currently at 25 weeks.

Prior to this, two transplant attempts were made in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but there have been no live births from it. Doctors based in Britain, Japan, France, Turkey and other parts of the world are planning to test similar procedures, but will make use of the wombs from women who had just passed away, rather than from live donors.

The Swedish patient had healthy ovaries, but was born without a uterus. This is a condition seen in around one girl for every 4500. The uterus she received was from a 61-year-old family friend who had gone through menopause after birthing two children.

Professor Brannstrom said he was surprised that the uterus was so successful, due to its age.

The patient had to take three medications to stop her body from rejecting the new organ. After approximately six weeks, she had her first menstrual cycle, which indicated that the womb was healthy.

It was only one year after the transplant that doctors felt confident enough to transfer one embryo, which had been created in a laboratory dish using the husband’s sperm and the patient’s eggs.

The woman, who only has one kidney, suffered three mild rejection episodes, including one during her pregnancy term, but the medical staff managed to treat all successfully.

The growth of the baby, umbilical cord and blood flow to the womb were all reported to be normal until the pregnancy reached 31 weeks, when the mother developed pre-eclampsia, a very dangerous high-blood-pressure condition.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section after the doctor detected an abnormal foetal heart rate. He had a normal weight of 3.9 pounds as he was premature. The baby was discharged from the neonatal unit 10 days after his birth.

This research was funded by the Jane and Dan Olsson Foundation for Science, which is a Swedish charity.

Image Credit: Nina Matthews Photography

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