A Brazilian woman has given birth to a healthy baby girl after a uterus transplant from a dead donor.
This is the first time a healthy baby has been born using a uterus from a deceased person. All other successful uterine transplants have come from live donors.
The baby was born to a 32-year-old woman who did not have a uterus. Her donor was a 45-year-old mother of two who died after a stroke.
And according to Australian doctors, women here are keen to give it a go too.
A world-first for uterine transplants
According to The Lancet medical journal, there have been 39 uterus transplants from live donors, which has resulted in 11 live births to date. Most donors are a family member or friend.
There have been 10 previous attempts of transplants from deceased donors,. The Brazilian baby girl is the very first to be born via this breakthrough procedure.
Dr Dani Ejzenberg, of the University of Sao Paulo Faculty of Medicine Clinics Hospital, who led the research, says it offers a new option for women with uterine infertility.
“The first uterus transplants from live donors were a medical milestone, creating the possibility of childbirth for many infertile women with access to suitable donors and the needed medical facilities. However, the need for a live donor is a major limitation as donors are rare, typically being willing and eligible family members or close friends,” he says.
“The numbers of people willing and committed to donate organs upon their own deaths are far larger than those of live donors, offering a much wider potential donor population.”
A new hope for infertile women
The Lancet article says that “uterus transplants from deceased donors are feasible and may open access for all women with uterine infertility.”
This finding may impact many women and families all around the world. The heartbreak of infertility affects 10-15% of couples of reproductive age. “Of this group, 1 in 500 women have uterine anomalies due to congenital anomalies, or through unexpected malformation, hysterectomy, or infection,” reports The Lancet. Prior to this surgical organ donor option, adoption or surrogacy have been their only options.
But how did the procedure actually work?
In this case, the baby’s mother suffered a rare disorder in which she was born without a uterus.
The complex surgery took more than 10 hours. It involved connecting the donor uterus to the veins, arteries, ligaments and vaginal canals of the 32-year-old. She received immuno-suppressant drugs, antibiotics and anti-blood clotting treatment. After seven months, once doctors were sure her body was responding well to the transplanted uterus, her fertilised eggs were implanted.
Her baby girl was born via C-section at which time the transplanted uterus was also removed.
What does this mean for the future?
Whilst this scientific breakthrough presents the possibility of providing previous infertile couples with the joy of becoming parents, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that, “it is not a procedure Australian specialists were likely to offer any time soon.”
Long term effects of this procedure via a dead donor are unknown,. While the Brazilian baby and her mother are well, it is still early days. Though it clearly reduces the risk of danger of this complex surgery for live donors, Italian Doctor, Dr Antonio Pellicer, comments in The Lancet journal that “it is still in the early stages of refining and many questions are still unsolved.”
Professor Lois Salamonsen, head of the endometrial remodelling group and Adjunct Professor at Monash University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, tells The Sydney Morning Herald that many women have asked why uterine transplants aren’t done in Australia.
“I’d have to say it’s in the pipelines but there are easier ways to have children like finding a surrogate or adopting,” she says.
“And it wouldn’t be a cheap procedure … I have my reservations about it.”
The longing to have children can never be underestimated nor dismissed. It will certainly be interesting to see whether this procedure becomes available in Australia down the track.
Medical research is always fluid and we might be right to sometimes wonder if it is madness or magic? Take a look at this woman who is became pregnant with twins at 67.