Doctors give the go-ahead for 10 women to have the first ever womb transplants in the UK from deceased donors.
Unlike the world’s first successful womb transplant in Sweden last year which used a live donor, the British women who are eligable for the transplant will receive a womb from a donor who is classified as brain dead.
The women, who will be selected as part of a clinical trial, must meet strict criteria, including being aged between 24 and 38, having a long-term partner and being a healthy weight.
If the transplant is successful, the first British baby born as a result could arrive in late 2017 or 2018.
Ethical approval for the transplant has been granted by a special committee at Imperial College London and will involve a clinical trial. The trial will launch in the spring and more than 100 women have been identified as potential recipients of donor wombs.
Before the trial starts, embryos will be created and frozen using each woman’s eggs and sperm from her partner. The women will then undergo a six-hour transplant operation to receive the womb.
“There is no doubting that, for many couples, childlessness is a disaster. Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women. Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that women have to carry their own baby. For a woman to carry her own baby – that has to be a wonderful thing.” Dr Richard Smith, Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea hospital
After being monitored closely for 12 months, each woman will be implanted with one of her embryos with the hope of achieving a successful pregnancy. Any baby would be delivered by Caesarean to prevent the donor womb going through the stresses of labour.
Around one in 5,000 women are born without a womb, while others can lose their womb to cancer.
Dr Richard Smith, who has been working for almost 20 years to secure approval, will lead the team hoping to perform the UK’s first ever womb transplant. This comes after the world’s first successful womb transplant in Sweden, which lead to the birth of a baby boy in September 2014.
Dr Smith said childlessness could be a “disaster” for couples and hopes the procedure could offer an alternative to surrogacy or adoption.
He said: “I’ve met many of the women who want this and it’s really important for them and their partners.
“There is no doubting that, for many couples, childlessness is a disaster. Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women. Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that women have to carry their own baby. For a woman to carry her own baby – that has to be a wonderful thing.”
He said that trial would use deceased donors rather than living ones because of the complexities of the operation.
“Donor retrieval is a bigger operation than transplanting the uterus into the recipient. We don’t want to subject a live donor to that operation.”
Another issue surrounding the procedure is funding. Just over £40,000 has been donated to the Womb Transplant UK project however, Dr Smith needs to raise £500,000 for the trial but he remains optimistic.
“The project has run with no money from the start. Somehow or other, somebody has always turned up and given us enough money to keep it going,” the surgeon said.
Organ donor coordinators have suggested that about five wombs per year could be made avaialble.