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UK to expand trials of womb transplants

Regulators grant ethical permission for trials involving 10 transplants to start next spring

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The UK Womb Transplant Research team has said it is delighted to have been granted ethical permission to begin an expanded series of 10 uterine transplant operations. It has already been approached for help by hundreds of women suffering from infertility, of whom more than a hundred meet its basic criteria, and it said it hopes to begin operating early next year.

However, ethical approval was not the only hurdle that the charity had to overcome – it still needs to raise almost £460,000 to cover the costs. It is also reliant on organs from ventilated donors, as it will not be using wombs from live donors.

To be considered for inclusion in the womb transplant research programme, women must be aged 25-38 years and of a healthy weight with no significant medical problems, have a long-term partner, and have normally functioning ovaries and their own eggs. They must also be eligible for NHS care, fluent in the English language and able to live in the UK as a resident for as long the grafted uterus is in-situ post operatively. Women are currently ineligible for the programme if they have previously had children, had previous major abdominal or pelvic surgery, had previous severe endometriosis, had cancer less than five years previously, or have a history of psychiatric illness involving hospital admission.

Women who had a successful transplant will begin a course of immunosuppressants to prevent the donated womb being rejected and then monitored for a year, after which a single embryo will be implanted, and the foetus closely monitored. The baby will be delivered by caesarean section at 35-37 weeks (or earlier if clinically necessary). A second baby will be possible if all went well with the first. Six months after birth, the donated womb will be removed so that immunosuppressant drugs can be stopped, and the woman will then have normal post-hysterectomy monitoring.

The research team’s head, Mr Richard Smith, is a consultant gynaecologist at The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London. He said: “As we have seen from the tremendously successful womb transplant programme being carried out by our colleagues in Sweden, this operation is clearly a viable option for those women who otherwise have absolutely no chance of carrying their own baby.

“Absolute infertility can bring with it terrible consequences for as many as 50,000 women of childbearing age in the UK who do not have a viable womb. We hope to begin a series of ten operations early in the New Year. However, we still need to raise around half a million pounds so that we can cover the costs of NHS services and complete our programme.”

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