Surgeons successfully achieved UK's first womb transplant

Oxford surgeons enable a woman born with a rare disease, Type 1 Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) which makes it difficult to conceive, to now have a functional womb.
Shubhangi Dua
First successful womb transplant took place in the UK
First successful womb transplant took place in the UK

Panuwat Dangsungnoen / iStock 

One out of every five thousand women in the UK without a functioning womb which makes it challenging for them to conceive genetically related babies. 

While this is the first transplant of its kind carried out in the UK, nearly 100 similar transplants have been performed worldwide, resulting in the birth of about 50 babies. The first successful womb transplant occurred in 2013 in Gothenburg, a city in Sweden.

Watch Sweden's first successful birth in a transplanted womb:

Sister supports sister

A 34-year-old woman who wishes to keep her identity anonymous was born with a rare condition, Type 1 Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) where the uterus is absent but ovaries are functioning. She has successfully received a womb transplant from her 40-year-old sister who donated the organ in early 2023.

Researchers dedicated 25 years to studying Uterine transplantation (UTx) with the goal of assisting women facing absolute uterine factor infertility (AUFI). They aimed to provide them the opportunity to gestate and give birth to genetically related offspring. 

Both the woman and her donor–sister have recovered well from the procedure. The younger sister plans to begin IVF treatment this autumn using embryos that she and her husband have in storage, according to BBC.

In a detailed case report published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology – BJOG published on 22 August, researchers explained that UTx is the only intervention that restores reproductive anatomy and functionality in women with AUFI. 

The surgery involved transplanting the uterus, cervix, surrounding ligamentous tissues, associated blood vessels, and a vaginal cuff to offer women with AUFI an alternative to adoption and surrogacy as a route to motherhood, the study said. 

Prior to receiving approval from the Human Tissue Authority, the transplant was sponsored and funded by the Charity Womb Transplant UK within the framework of the UK living donor program.

The transplant surgical team was a combined operation led by surgeons from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust.

Recipient plans preganancy

The statement by researchers reported that both the donor operation and subsequent transplant took place at the Oxford Transplant Centre at OUH's Churchill Hospital. The two procedures overlapped and together took almost 18 hours. 

Richard Smith, a consultant gynecological surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and professor of practice at Imperial College London stated: 

“This is a first for the UK, following over 25 years of research, and is only possible thanks to the recipient's sister who came forward and was willing to donate,” he added. “It is still very early days but, if all continues to go well, we hope the recipient will continue to progress, and be in a position to have a baby in the coming years.”

Smith also said that further transplants will depend on the willingness of suitable donors and funding for the operations. 

Jessica Porter, head of regulation at the Human Tissue Authority, alluded to womb transplant operations in the UK and stated that all organ donations from living people in the UK must be approved by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) before they can proceed. 

“The HTA checks that consent is in place and there is no duress, coercion or reward."

If the recipient continues to stay healthy, she will undergo an embryo transfer later this year at the Lister Fertility Clinic in London. Once her pregnancy is confirmed, she will be closely monitored at a specialized clinic at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital, which is also where the delivery with take place, according to the NHS statement.

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