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Womb transplants begin in U.K. after Sweden's success

By Marilyn Malara
Womb transplants begin in U.K. after Sweden's success
The U.K. has green-lighted the transplant of ten wombs to patients without one as a clinical trial. If successful, the first baby born of a transplanted womb in the region will arrive in 2018. Photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock

LONDON, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- A small group of women will be the first in the United Kingdom to undergo womb transplants as doctors receive permission to begin carrying out the operation.

A total of 10 womb transplants will be completed as part of a clinical trial approved by the Heath Research Authority. According to the BBC, the trial will launch in the spring; if successful, the first baby born by a transplanted womb will arrive in 2018.

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Reports of the U.K. trial approval come after Swedish doctors found success from uterus transplants in recent years. Last year, nine Swedish women received the reproductive organs from living family members. In October of that year, a woman from the trial became the first in the world to give birth from a transplanted womb from a live donor.

The U.K. procedures, in contrast, will take the organs from "brain-dead" donors with healthy bodies. If successful, the women will then be impregnated via IVF as their fallopian tubes will not be connected to the body's new addition.

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Transplant team leader Dr. Richard Smith of Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London told BBC Radio 4 last week he is very dedicated to the project, of which he has been a part for close to 20 years.

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"Over the years I have quite a lot of crisis with this project," he said. "But when you meet the women who have been born without a uterus, or who have had their uterus removed for one reason or another, this is really heart-rending stuff and that is what has kept us going."

BBC reports the procedure takes surgeons about six hours to complete and the patient is then monitored for a year. When the woman is approved for fertilization, she is then implanted with an embryo via IVF. Eight months later, the baby is delivered via C-section.

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Each transplanted womb can only go through two pregnancies and is removed promptly after it isn't needed anymore to protect the patient from being forced to take immunosuppressant drugs -- which keep the body from rejecting the uterus -- for the rest of her life.

"The UK team have been working on this for many years and so it is very exciting that they have been given the go ahead to move into clinical practice," said British Fertility Society Adam Balen. "This opens up the possibility to carry their own pregnancy rather than reply upon IVF with their eggs and surrogacy."

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