Britain's first womb transplant could be carried out in just TWO YEARS
Consultant Richard Smith says procedure could be routine enough and inexpensive enough for use on the NHS by 2020
08:44 GMT, 12 July 2012
Derya Sert from Anamur in Southern Turke was the first person to have a womb transplant. She is looking forward to having IVF
Britain’s first womb transplant could be carried out in just two years.
Surgeons in London are on the verge of perfecting the procedure that will allow childless women to carry their own babies.
Richard Smith, who plans to carry out the pioneering op, says it could provide a ‘ray of light’ for the 15,000 young British women of childbearing age who were born without a womb or had it removed due to illness.
However, critics question whether giving a woman the chance to experience the joy of pregnancy is worth ‘experimenting’ on an unborn child.
Mr Smith, a consultant gynaecological surgeon at the Lister Hospital in west London, has spent almost 15 years researching the subject and today launches the charity Uterine Transplant UK to raise the 500,000 needed for the first five ops.
A womb has only been transplanted successfully once before, in Turkey last August. But the recipient has not yet become pregnant.
Derya Sert, who is due to start IVF in September in the hope of conceiving a much longed-for child, recently told the Daily Mail: ‘If I had a magic wand, I would want to be pregnant now. I just want to hold my baby in my arms, to be a mother.’
Mr Smith, of charity Uterine Transplant UK, is using a similar technique to the Turkish surgeons but says his work has been delayed by lack of funding.
He has already ploughed significant amounts of his own money into the quest and hopes the appeal will attract donations from medical charities and members of the public.
He has already done successful womb transplants in rabbits and one became pregnant, although it later miscarried. More work on rabbits and then on sheep is planned.
If successful, the operation could be carried out on a British woman in as little as two years.
Danger: Fertility expert Lord Winston says the risks are not worth taking. Surrogacy is an alternative option
Mr Smith has already been approached by more than 50 women.
The candidate for surgery would be between 20 and 40 and born without a womb or had it removed due to illness.
The woman would have ovaries and so be able to produce eggs, will be given a womb from a dead donor in a four-hour operation.
Powerful immunosuppressant drugs will prevent the new womb from being rejected and six months to a year later, the woman will be given IVF to become pregnant.
Any baby will have to delivered by caesarean section because the new tissue will not stand up to a natural birth.
The woman is likely to be at extra risk of a host of complications of pregnancy, as well as miscarrying or having a premature birth.
The process does not end there. Long-term risks of disease and side effects from the anti-rejection drugs mean the new womb will need to be taken out again after one or two pregnancies.
Currently, such women have their options limited to remaining childless, adoption or surrogacy.
I WOULD HAVE HAD A WOMB TRANSPLANT IN A SECOND
Eleanor Findlater, who had a hysterectomy due to cancer said she would have had a womb transplant 'in a second' if it had been available
Eleanor Findlater had a hysterectomy within months of being
married – and would have had a womb transplant in a second.
Mrs Findlater was just 32 when she was diagnosed with a rare
form of cancer of the womb and had the lifesaving hysterectomy.
She said: ‘I had just been married for six months, I’d
always wanted children and I was absolutely devastated.’
After deciding against adoption because of the length of
time it would take, the Findlaters settled on surrogacy.
They now have two boys, aged four and five, who are
genetically their own and were carried by the same surrogate mother.
Mrs Findlater, who is now 40 and lives in London where she
is setting up a business, says that she has no regrets about the route she
chose – but would have opted for a womb transplant had it
She said: ‘Surrogacy was the most fantastic experience but I
would have had a womb transplant in a second.
‘I would have done what it took to carry a baby, if the
option had been there.’
Although surrogacy would allow them to have a child that is genetically their own, it is banned in some countries and legally and ethically fraught in others.
Mr Smith said: ‘In many women, there is a deep yearning to carry children and this is not fulfilled by surrogacy.
‘I’ve had my own crisis with this project over the years, are we doing the right thing
‘But when you meet women in this position, I know in my heart of hearts that if we do it safely, it is the right thing.’
He added that by 2020, the procedure could be routine enough and inexpensive enough for use on the NHS.
Not everyone agrees. Fertility expert Lord Winston says the risks are not worth taking and some women have to accept they won’t become mothers.
And the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has reservations about the welfare of the mother and of the child.
Professor Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist and RCOG spokesman, said: ‘Significant concerns need to be addressed to everybody’s satisfaction before we go ahead and offer this as a viable option.’