PregnancyFoetusA woman in Sweden has given birth to a baby boy using a transplanted womb, in a medical feat that is the first of its kind.

The 36 year-old mother, who was born without a uterus, received a donated womb from a 61-year-old woman, a family friend who had gone through menopause seven years earlier, after having two children.

The British medical journal, The Lancet, says the baby was born prematurely in September weighing 1.8kg (3.9lb). The father said his son was “amazing”.

Cancer treatment and birth defects are the main reasons women can be left without a functioning womb.

If they want a child of their own, their only option is surrogacy.

Medical marvel

The identity of the couple in Sweden has not been released, but it is known the mother still had functioning ovaries.

The couple went through IVF to produce 11 embryos, which were frozen. Doctors at the University of Gothenburg then performed the womb transplant.

Drugs to suppress the immune system were needed to prevent the womb being rejected.

A year after the transplant, doctors decided they were ready to implant one of the frozen embryos and a pregnancy ensued.

The baby was born prematurely, almost 32 weeks into the pregnancy, after the mother developed pre-eclampsia* and the baby’s heart rate became abnormal.

Both baby and mum doing well

In an anonymous interview with the AP news agency, the baby’s overjoyed father, who like the mother is an athlete, said:

“It was a pretty tough journey over the years, but we now have the most amazing baby. He is very, very cute, and he doesn’t even scream, he just murmurs.

“He’s no different from any other child, but he will have a good story to tell. One day he can look at the newspaper articles about how he was born and know that he was the first in the world.”

Joyous moment

Two other medical teams have attempted womb transplants before.

In one case, the organ became diseased and had to be removed after three months. Another case resulted in miscarriages.

Prof Mats Brannstrom, who led the transplant team, described the birth in Sweden as a joyous moment.

“That was a fantastic happiness for me and the whole team, but it was an unreal sensation also because we really could not believe we had reached this moment.

“Our success is based on more than 10 years of intensive animal research and surgical training by our team and opens up the possibility of treating many young females worldwide that suffer from uterine infertility.”

Liza Johannesson, a gynaecological surgeon in the team, said: “It gives hope to those women and men that thought they would never have a child, that thought they were out of hope.”

Doubts

However, there are still doubts about the safety and effectiveness of the invasive procedure.

Dr Brannstrom and his team are working with another eight couples with a similar need. The results of those pregnancy attempts will give a better picture of whether this technique can be used more widely.

Dr Allan Pacey, the chairman of the British Fertility Society, told the BBC News website: “I think it is brilliant and revolutionary and opens the door to many infertile women.

“The scale of it feels a bit like IVF. It feels like a step change. The question is can it be done repeatedly, reliably and safely?”

The couple, fresh from celebrating the birth of their child, will soon have to decide if they want a second.

The drugs used to prevent the womb being rejected would be damaging in the long term – so the couple will either try again or have the womb removed.

Facts about womb transplant

  • Dr Mats Brannstrom, of the University of Gothenberg, who has been leading the experimental fertility project, says up to 15,000 women in the UK could stand to benefit. This includes women either born without a womb or who have womb problems that stop them conceiving
  • Dr Brannstrom’s team recruited 10 women to their trial. One could not proceed with the trial for medical reasons, but nine went on to have a womb transplant
  • These women were born without a uterus or had it removed because of cervical cancer
  • Most are in their 30s and are part of the first major experiment to test whether it is possible to transplant wombs into women so they can give birth to their own children
  • Scientists in Britain and elsewhere are also planning similar operations but the efforts in Sweden are the most advanced
  • There have been two previous attempts to transplant a womb – in Turkey and Saudi Arabia – but both failed to produce babies
  • More than 15,000 women of childbearing age in the UK do not have a womb – having either been born without it (a condition that affects around 1 in 5000 baby girls), or having had to have it removed when young due to a condition such as cervical cancer
  • In the UK, surrogacy is legally complex, and in many countries (including Sweden) it is illegal, so a womb transplant is the only hope for hundreds of thousands of women around the world who wish to have their own biological child.

*Eclampsia is an illness that sometimes occurs during the later stages of pregnancy and involves high blood pressure and convulsions, sometimes followed by a coma.

NP/BBC/Agency reports

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