Life after death: First baby born using a dead woman’s womb
Harvesting landscape suddenly changes as healthy girl born after Brazilian team uses the womb from a stroke victim
The first baby has been born using the transplanted womb from a dead woman, a breakthrough that opens up the possibility of harvesting wombs from donor patients after death in the same way as other organs, ending the need for live donors.
A team in Brazil transplanted the womb from a dead 45-year-old woman into an infertile 32-year-old recipient, who went on to have a healthy girl.
The first womb transplant baby was born in Sweden in 2013, using her grandmother’s uterus, and since then there have been 10 other births globally. But donors are difficult to find and the surgical procedure to remove the womb from a living person can be dangerous.
“The use of deceased donors could greatly broaden access to this treatment,” said lead researcher Dr Dani Ejzenberg, of the University of Sao Paulo’s faculty of medicine. “The first uterus transplants from live donors were a medical milestone, creating the possibility of childbirth for many infertile women. However, the need for a live donor is a major limitation as donors are rare, typically being willing and eligible family members or close friends. The numbers of people willing and committed to donate organs upon their own deaths are far larger than those of live donors, offering a much wider potential donor population.”
Richard Smith, consultant gynaecologist at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London, and clinical lead at Womb Transplant UK, said his team hoped to start similar procedures. Hundreds of women in Britain have already signed up to have womb transplants and doctors are now waiting for suitable tissue matches and donors to become available.
“The UK womb transplant research team is absolutely delighted with the news from Brazil,” said Smith. “Womb transplant using organs from living donors and donors who have just died is a real option for some of the many women in the UK who don’t have a viable womb. We hope to replicate this in the not too distant future. Watch this space.”
In the past few years surgeons have attempted 10 other womb transplants from deceased donors in the US, the Czech Republic and Turkey, but none have been successful. The Brazilian surgery was carried out on a woman who had already undergone in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and had eight fertilised eggs frozen. She received the womb in September 2016 from a 45-year-old mother who had died from a stroke and consented for her uterus to be donated.
The operation took nearly 11 hours and the recipient needed five drugs to suppress her immune system sufficiently so her body would not reject the foreign tissue. After-checks showed the womb was behaving normally, the frozen eggs were transplanted seven months after surgery, in April 2017, and a healthy girl was born 35 weeks later by caesarean section, weighing 2.7kg and has continued to thrive.
The study was welcomed by British fertility experts. Dr Srdjan Saso, honorary clinical lecturer and senior registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology, Imperial College London, and also part of the womb transplant team, said the development was “extremely exciting”.
“Our hope, as we plan to kick-start the UK programme at the beginning of 2019, is for the deceased donor uterine transplant programme to grow alongside its ‘live donor’ counterpart, prove achievable and successful so that both women with willing donors in their families, and those not, can have a real option of carrying a healthy pregnancy,” he said.
Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King’s College London, added: “This allows a further option for women with uterine problems preventing them having a baby to carry their own child, rather than relying on live donors, a surrogate or adoption.”
The research is published in The Lancet.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited