In September 2014, Vincent, the first womb transplant baby, was born in Switzerland. In Latin, the word 'Vincent' means 'to win'. Indeed, his birth signaled hope for many women in the world to carry their own babies inside their wombs.
Vincent's mother is a 37-year-old Swedish woman. She received a living donor womb from a family friend, a 61-year-old woman with two sons.
The success of Vincent's birth paved the way for women in the United Kingdom (UK) to be given the same chance, with a slight alteration. The use of a living donor's womb in Sweden raised many ethical issues. In the UK, the Imperial College London gave an ethical approval for 10 womb transplants. Ten women will take part in a womb transplant clinical trial in 2016. Unlike in Sweden, the UK womb transplants will use womb from clinically braindead donors.
"Donor retrieval is a bigger operation than transplanting the uterus into the recipient," said Dr. Richard Smith, clinical test lead and Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital's consultant gynecologist. "We don't want to subject a live donor to that operation."
Smith explained one in 5,000 women in the UK were born without a womb, while some had their wombs removed due to illness such as cancer. The surgeon-gynecologist has worked on the womb transplant project for nearly 20 years. He is delighted to finally receive ethical approval for 10 womb transplants in the UK set in 2016.
"For many couples, childlessness is a disaster. Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women", said Smith. "Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that women have to carry their own baby."
Over 100 women in the UK, aged 25 to 38, have been shortlisted for the clinical trial. The application process has a long list of requirements including healthy weight, functional ovaries and eggs and a long-term partner. Out of the 300 hopeful applicants, only 100 have met the requirements, said Womb Transplant UK. The 100 women will then be cut down to just 10.
Prior to the clinical trials, the doctors will create the embryos using the woman's eggs and her partner's sperm. The actual womb transplant is a six-hour ordeal where a patient will be transplanted with the donor womb. The next twelve months will require close monitoring and intake of immunosuppressant drugs. The doctors will then plant one of the embryos and hope for a positive pregnancy, wherein a caesarean section will be performed to prevent womb trauma.
Successful mothers can then opt for another try. Otherwise, the donor womb will be removed. Keeping the donor womb is not an option as this would retain the need for immunosuppressant drugs.
Still in its preliminary stage, the clinical trial needs £500,000 or approximately $760,000 to operate. The Womb Transplant UK project has received £40,000 or roughly $60,000 to date.