For the first time ever, a woman gives birth to a child from a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor. In 2014, it was discovered that uteri transplants were possible as up to ten surgeries have been carried out to this effect. There were live births but the transplanted uteri were donated from live women- relatives or close friends of the recipients. There have been attempts in time past to transplant uterus from deceased donors but these have all failed. This indeed is a significant advancement as opposed to using living donors.
The baby who is almost a year old was delivered by the mother in December 2017. The Brazilian woman had a condition of being born without a womb because of a rare syndrome. According to a study published on Tuesday in The Lancet, in 2016, surgeons at a Brazilian hospital transplanted a uterus into the body of a 32-year-old woman born without one. However, she had ovaries, meaning that her eggs could be collected and used in IVF. The donor was a woman who had died from a stroke. The uterus was meticulously dissected from the donor and preserved in ice for nearly eight hours before the surgery took place.
Before the surgery, the woman underwent the In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) cycle and produced eight fertilized embryos which were cryogenically frozen. The woman was given immunosuppressant to prevent rejection of the organ. Biopsies were also made of the cervix at regular intervals to check for signs of rejection. Significant progress was observed as five months after the transplant, the uterus showed no signs of rejection and she even started experiencing normal menstruation. Seven months after the transplant surgery, an embryo was implanted into the woman’s uterus (months earlier than in previously attempted cases with living donors). It was found out she was pregnant ten days after.
The pregnancy went on smoothly and on the 15th of December, just over 35 weeks, she delivered a baby girl by caesarian section. Three days after the birth, the mother and the baby left the hospital and now almost a year after, the child is very healthy and developing normally. However, during the procedure, the donated uterus was also removed. When asked why, Dr. Dani Ejzenberg of the University of São Paulo, who led the team of surgeons said that it would have been expensive to keep the woman on immunosuppressant as funds were scarce. They hoped to use these scare funds to allow other women to undergo the procedure. The team also said that it was a success as this would be a new path to follow for those women who only had the option of adoption or surrogacy for starting a new family.
“With a deceased donor, you reduce the risk because you don’t have the risk to the donor – and you reduce the costs, too, because you don’t have the hospitalization and the very long surgery of the donor,” said Ejzenberg. This procedure which was hitherto just restricted to living donors can now be expanded to include deceased persons. In so doing, this will increase the number of uteri that will be made available for transplantation. This will, in turn, increase the number of infertile people who can wholly benefit from such a surgery.
While this is obviously good news to infertile women and to the very few other women born without the uterus, this also is a piece of news worth celebrating by transgender women. So far, in theory, it is deemed possible that this discovery would work also for transgender women, time however will tell how true this is. With uteri being available for transplant from deceased donors, the need for live donors will perhaps soon be extinct.
Alex Barker is a full-time Pharmacist, media company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He is also is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps busy professionals build successful side businesses.