If the clinical trial that will conduct 10 womb transplants in the United Kingdom proves successful, the first U.K.-born baby from the procedure could arrive in early 2018.

The go-signal from the Health Research Authority to start the trial in the spring follows the success of a woman in Sweden who gave birth in October 2014 after receiving womb transplant. The 36-year-old woman had healthy ovaries but lacked a uterus since birth.

The Swedish woman was born without a uterus. About one in 4,500 to 5,000 women is born without a womb. Some have also lost their womb to cancer and they are all targeted by this medical innovation.

Dr. Richard Smith, head of the transplant team and consultant gynecologist at the Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London, has been working on the project for almost 20 years.

“[W]hen 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,” Smith said over a radio program, citing the existence of “quite a lot of crisis” with the transplant project.

Womb Transplant UK has set out criteria for trial participants, including being 38-years old or younger, with a long-term partner, and of healthy weight. Some 104 of more than 300 women who approached the team met the said criteria.

The wombs for transplantation will come from brain-dead donors, unlike in Sweden’s procedures, where they were sourced from living donors.

Couples will be given two tries at pregnancy, after which surgeons will remove the transplanted womb. The woman will also take immunosuppressants post-transplant and throughout pregnancy and will be monitored closely for a year. The baby will be delivered via cesarean section.

Sophie, a 30-year-old female, is among those aspiring to be one of the first 10 womb recipients. She was diagnosed at age 16 with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, where her womb did not develop. She intends to marry her long-time partner and considers it “amazing” to carry her own child.

British Fertility Society chairman Professor Adam Balen said this development “opens up the possibility” for childbearing by affected women instead of relying upon in-vitro fertilization of their eggs and surrogacy.

Each womb transplant costs about 50,000 pounds (about $76,000), which women will not pay for themselves. Public donations to date are good for two procedures.

The likelihood of women giving birth with post-uterus transplant has previously received criticism and doubts from some experts, with the live birth of the Swedish woman settling the issue and paving the way for trials such as the U.K. womb transplant project.

Photo: J.K. Califf | Flickr

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