Uterus Transplants Offer Hope for Infertile Women

The Evolution of Women's Reproductive Health

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Ever since Margaret Sanger persuaded endocrinologist Gregory Pincus to begin working on a birth control pill that allowed women to have more sexual freedom, women’s reproductive health has continued to evolve. Currently, women have a number of options for birth control (including pills, IUDs, rings, female condoms and diaphragms) and a lot of focus has been turned towards the women who want to have control over giving birth when the age, and the time, is right. In vitro fertilization has provided hope for otherwise infertile women, but now there’s even more hope for those who desire to carry their own pregnancy to term. Sweden recently demonstrated that this new uterus transplant procedure can result in healthy pregnancies, and the first clinical trial is currently getting underway in the United States. 

The first year after implantation is spent making sure the body doesn’t reject the transplanted uterus. That means lots of healing and anti-rejection medicine. If all continues to go as planned, in vitro fertilization is then used to impregnate the borrowed uterus, thereby allowing a woman to carry her own baby to term.

What is Uterus Transplant?

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Also known as a womb transplant, uterine transplants are the latest medical marriage – a pair bonding, according to the NY Timesbetween reproductive medicine and transplant surgery. With a uterine transplant, a healthy uterus is implanted inside another woman’s body and remains there for the next two years. The goal is to help women who would otherwise be unable to conceive due to their lack of a healthy uterus become fertile. 

Who is Eligible?

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Women who lack a uterus are eligible for this temporary transplant. Whether she’s lost the uterus from damage or illness, or if she was born without one due to a condition known as Mayer-Rokitansky - Küster-Hauser syndrome, this transplant is more like a reproductive rental than a lifelong liability.

Women between the ages of 21-45 will be eligible, but women over 40 will need to have gone through fertility treatments and have frozen their eggs by the time they’ve turned 39.

The Procedure

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Because the implanted uterus will not be connected to a woman’s fallopian tubes, there’s no chance of pregnancy without in vitro fertilization. 

That means that before a woman can even get to the surgery, she must have frozen embryos ready to go. After the embryos are given the green light, doctors will look for a donor uterus. The surgery involves connecting the donor’s uterus to the recipient’s vagina. In Sweden, all the uteruses were removed from post-menopausal women who were still alive. In the United States, the surgeon’s will remove the uterus from a cadaver. Either way, doctors have between 6-8 hours to implant the donated uterus inside another woman’s body.

If surgery is successful, the recipient will wait a year before in vitro fertilization takes place. Additionally, she’ll stay on anti-rejection drugs until after she gives birth.

Read more details about the procedure

The Possibilities are Endless

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The first successful uterus transplant and birth occurred last year in Sweden. In 2014, a 36-year-old woman born without a uterus received a donated one from a post-menopausal friend . So far, Sweden has done nine uterus transplants, resulting in four healthy, albeit premature births, and a fifth baby due in January.

For now, the surgery will be open to more than 50,000 women in the United States who want to have one or two children. Uterus transplants open up a whole new world of possibility when it comes to pregnancy - including the possibility for trans women and men to get pregnant and carry a baby to term

Mind blowing, don’t you think?

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