6 Oct 2014

First British womb transplant ‘by spring’

It was a race and the Swedes won it.  The first live birth from a womb transplant.  It was announced late on Friday that baby Vincent had been born from a womb donated by a 61-year-old friend of the new mother.

Another two women are due to give birth shortly but this time using wombs donated by their own mothers.  This means two generations of children will be born using the same uterus.

It does feel miraculous.  Giving life where once it was impossible.

But rather than miracles, it is the result of sheer hard graft. Pernilla Dahm Kahler and Mats Brannstrom of Gothenburg University (pictured below and right), have spent 15 years working on this. 06_womb_r_w

In the UK, it has been a similar length of time.  Here, they have already identified five women who were either born without a womb or who have had it removed who could be suitable.  But many more – up to 60 – have come forward.

The British team, led by Richard Smith, a consultant gynaecological surgeon at Hammersmith Hospital in west London, hope to apply for ethical approval within the next three months.  If it is granted, they expect to carry out the first transplant by next spring or summer.

What is currently hampering them is money.  A charity started by Mr Smith called Womb Transplant UK has so far raised £100,000 but they need another £400,000 to pay the NHS for the five transplants.

The difference between the British and Swedish approaches to womb transplant is in the donation.  In Sweden they have used live donors in the nine transplants they have so far performed.

Mr Smith prefers to use cadaver wombs because he says he is uncomfortable about removing a woman’s womb in an operation that is not life-saving.

He also says that taking an organ from a dead donor means that it is likely to be younger and they can take extra tissue and major blood vessels to help support the pregnancy.

And not all women without wombs will be accepted for transplant.  They have to be under the age of 35 and those who have had cancer will not be included because of the powerful drugs that have to be used to prevent rejection.


There have been womb transplants in Turkey and Saudi Arabia and there are also teams working on similar programmes in the United States and Hungary.  There has been collaboration between all the countries.

It is a 10 hour operation to remove the donor womb.  It is then put on ice before being transplanted.  The Swedish operation lasted six hours.

The woman has to be put on powerful immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection.  A year later an embryo is implanted.

In the case of new baby Vincent, he was delivered by caesarean section a month early so the mother did not have to go through the strain of labour.

There will be those who believe this is a step too far.  Indeed, the eminent fertility specialist, Lord Robert Winston is quoted as saying the risks are too great and that some women will have to accept they will not be able to give birth.

Yet there are others who have compared this to a development as significant as the first heart transplant.

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