In the next few months, U.S. surgeons based at the Cleveland Clinic will become the first ever American medical experts to successfully transplant a uterus into a woman without one so that she can conceive and actually give birth.
The expected recipients of the uterus will be those who were either born without one, had it removed or maybe they have uterine damage. Even though this move will be welcomed by many, it seems it will only be on a temporary basis. After the recipient has had one or two babies, the uterus will be removed so that she can stop using transplant anti-rejection medication.
All these will be possible thanks to a practice run that was carried out by six Cleveland Clinic doctors who successfully removed the uterus from the body of a deceased organ donor in about 90 minutes.
Uterine transplantation is still a very new thing that brings together the prowess of reproductive medicine and that of transplant surgery – the two disciplines that are renowned for innovation and pushing limits medically and ethically, respectively.
A new dawn has come
As noted earlier, this is good news to many women, with the U.S. alone having approximately 50,000 women without a uterus, however, there are possible risks associated with this new frontier.
One risk that the currently healthy recipients of the uterus will face during this transplant is surgery. A second one is the risk of anti-rejection drugs for a procedure that is not life-saving. These pregnancies will be a huge risk as the fetuses will be exposed to transplant anti-rejection drugs in addition to developing inside a uterus extracted from a deceased woman.
As of now, at least 8 women have enrolled into the screening program with the hope that they will be selected for the transplants.
“There are women who won’t have replacements for reasons that are either personal, cultural or even religious”, Dr. Andreas Tzakis, who is the driving force behind this program, said in a statement. “These women are extremely aware of what this is about”.
Cleveland Clinic has said that it will undertake 10 more practical procedures before it decides on what the next step is, but the hope of Tzakis, who is also the director of organ transplant surgery at a Cleveland Clinic facility in Weston, Fla, is that this procedure can be availed to U.S. citizens as soon as possible.
While this will be the first uterine transplant in the U.S., it won’t be the first in the world. The first and the only successful country so far to have done this is Sweden; however, the procedure was done with a uterus donated by a live woman. Since then, 9 women have received them and four have already given birth. The first was born last September and another is coming in January 2016. All babies were born premature, but very healthy. Along the road, two transplants have failed and as such, they had to be removed; one due to infection and another due to blood clot. Nonetheless, the doctor spearheading the project still defended the anti-rejection drugs, saying that they are very safe.
Women who will receive the transplants will however have to wait for a year for the healing process to complete as well as adjust to the anti-rejection drugs’ doses before they can try becoming pregnant.
Another thing that is worth noting is the fact that a natural pregnancy won’t be possible with these uterine transplants. This is true because the fallopian tubes will be disconnected from the introduced uterus. The only way is through in vitro fertilization.