What You Need to Know About Uterus Transplants

PHOTO: A doctor examines a pregnant woman in an undated stock photo.PlayGetty Images
WATCH Surgeons Prepare for First Uterus Transplants in US

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic said this week they will attempt to give 10 women the chance to be pregnant by providing them with a uterine transplant.

Who Will Undergo Surgery?

The study announced this week will attempt to help women unable to carry a pregnancy to term because of uterine factor infertility, according to a statement from Cleveland Clinic. The abnormalities include uterine fibroids, scarring of the uterus or being born without a uterus.

In other cases a woman could be considered if she had a hysterectomy or damage to the uterus.

“Women who are coping with UFI [uterine factor infertility] have few existing options,” Dr. Tommaso Falcone, an obstetrician-gynecologist and Women’s Health Institute chairman, said in a statement released Thursday. “Although adoption and surrogacy provide opportunities for parenthood, both pose logistical challenges and may not be acceptable due to personal, cultural or legal reasons.”

Where Has This Been Done Before?

Uterine transplants have already occurred in other countries including Sweden and Turkey. A woman in Sweden conceived and give birth last year undergoing the womb transplant with a donation from a family friend, according to the BBC.

In total, five pregnancies and four births have occurred in Sweden after nine uterus transplants, according to a statement by the Cleveland Clinic.

The procedure could be especially important for infertile women who live in countries where surrogacy is illegal.

What Is the Process?

Although the procedure could be some women’s only chance to carry their child to term, it is not without serious difficulties. To undergo the process, a woman will have her eggs retrieved via in vitro fertilization and frozen.

After undergoing an operation, the woman has to remain on immune system-suppressing drugs so that her body does not reject the organ. She’ll also have to under monthly biopsies.

Any infant conceived will have to be delivered by Caesarian section and after, at most, two children, the uterus will be removed so the woman does not have to face a life time of medication.

“Unlike any other transplants, they are ‘ephemeral,’” said Cleveland Clinic lead investigator Dr. Andreas Tzakis said in a statement. “They are not intended to last for the duration of the recipient’s life, but will be maintained for only as long as is necessary to produce one or two children.”

Dr. James Goldfarb, division chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said a big difference between this study and the Swedish study is that the organs in the United States will transplanted from deceased donors. In the Swedish study, living donors underwent extensive surgeries to remove their uteruses intact.

“They had to get the whole vascular and blood supply [cleared]; they had a larger area to operate on,” Goldfarb said. ”You’re subjected someone to much more surgery than someone who is donating a kidney.”

He said people receiving a transplanted uterus will likely not have to undergo such an intense operation.

“It’s a very tricky surgery,” he said, “but I think it will be less traumatic.”

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