Whoa, Science: Woman Might Be Pregnant Using Womb She Once Occupied


It sounds like a far-fetched medical miracle of the future: A woman born without a womb gets a shot at giving birth to a baby after undergoing a womb transplant (with own her mother serving as the donor) followed by a successful embryo transfer. And it's actually happened.

If a pregnancy results, the unidentified woman (who used her own egg in the procedure) will become the first to give birth from a transplanted womb and the baby would be the first born to a mother using the same womb she was born from.

"We are hopeful that a baby will be produced in 9 months," Mats Brannstrom, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Sahlgrenska Academy, Gothenburg, Sweden, who led the transplant team, tells Yahoo Shine. "Right now, we have to wait and see. Even if the embryo is high quality, there's still a 25 percent chance that it will result in a baby [which, incidentally are the same odds an average woman has of an embryo turning into a viable pregnancy]" According to Brannstorm, the fact the womb belongs to the woman's mother helps increase the odds of a successful pregnancy because, much like any other type of organ donation, genetic similarity is a factor in whether the patient will reject the organ.

Brannstorm's team conducted nine other womb transplants between September 2012 and April 2013 among women who suffer from MRKH syndrome, a rare disorder that prevents the womb from developing. Those with the condition have ovaries and even produce eggs, but they have to be fertilized outside the body. The women will be considered pregnant when the embryo implants itself in the uterine wall.

It's the second time in recent history that a woman made headlines for a transplanted womb. Last May, Derya Sert, 22, was the first woman in the world to undergo a successful womb transplant from a deceased donor and become pregnant, however, she lost her baby at eight weeks after its heart stopped beating and doctors had to terminate her pregnancy.

"Less than one percent of women are born without a uterus, so it's rare, but we do see similar cases, especially in women from countries where access to reproductive technology is limited or unavailable mainly due to political and religious issues," Hal Danzer, co-founder of Southern California Reproductive Center and a reproductive endocrinologist board-certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology (who was not involved with the procedure), tells Yahoo Shine. These types of experimental operations also carry ethical issues, he adds. Since womb transplants are such a new concept, the health risks for the baby (developmental issues, premature birth) are largely unknown. "For example, if the recipient's body rejects the womb, she'll have to undergo hours of potentially risky surgery to remove the organ," says Danzer. There are also psychological matters to consider (Are both the donor and the couple prepared for the emotional highs and lows of the surgery?), so, as with other reproductive procedures all parties must undergo psychological testing to make sure it's a good fit.

The procedure may seem radical, however, as Danzer points out, so once did procedures such as, in vitro fertilization (IVF). "That's why we have ethics committees, evolving technology and extensive counseling for experiments like these," he says. "It's an evolving science."

According to Danzer, a transferred embryo takes about 10 to 12 days to turn into a pregnancy, so for now, it's a waiting game as to whether the surgery is a success. If the Swedish woman carries her pregnancy to term, she'll likely undergo a cesarean section, a more controlled birth than natural childbirth. "These are exciting developments for science that we'll hopefully know more about soon," says Danzer.

More on Yahoo Shine:
Baby Born After 19 Years as an Embryo
India's 'Rent-a-Womb' Industry Draws Criticism