In a medical first for the U.K., surgeons in Oxford have successfully performed a womb transplant between two sisters. The complicated procedure is a form of fertility treatment expected to usher in a new era of child birthing possibilities.
The oldest sister, 40, is a living donor who had already birthed two children. She donated the organ to her 34-year-old sister, who was born with an undeveloped womb. The sisters, who are English, wished to remain anonymous.
Details of the surgery were published on Tuesday in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG). The surgeries were performed by a team at Churchill Hospital in Oxford in early 2023 as part of the U.K. living donor program.
The transplant implantation took more than nine hours to complete. Altogether, the operations on both sisters totalled around 17 hours and involved more than 30 staff members. Both women were well enough to leave the hospital after 10 days in care.
The sister who received the womb is “incredibly happy” and “over the moon” about the successful treatment, according to the charity Womb Transplant U.K., which paid for the procedure.
The recipient plans to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) in an attempt to have two children of her own.
Before the transplant, the sister who received the womb underwent several fertility treatments, including stimulation to generate eggs and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) to produce embryos. The embryo transfer is expected to take place later this year, barring any complications.
Researchers have worked for the last 25 years to develop the womb transplant procedure, according to the NHS.
Co-lead surgeon Richard Smith said in a press release that the surgery was “only possible thanks to the recipient’s sister who came forward and was willing to donate.”
“It is still very early days but, if all continues to go well, we hope the recipient will continue to progress, and be in a position to have a baby in the coming years,” he said. “We are grateful to the charity Womb Transplant UK for funding the transplant and to our highly talented colleagues for their time and expertise over many years.”
Smith said future womb transplants will depend on the willingness of suitable donors and the availability of funding.
“However, we very much hope we will be able to help other women born without or with underdeveloped wombs in the near future,” Smith concluded.
According to the NHS, about 100 womb transplants have been performed globally, though this is a first for the U.K. Approximately 50 babies have reportedly been born as a result of womb transplants. The first successful womb transplant was carried out in 2013 in Sweden.
The Guardian reported that another U.K.-based womb transplant is already on the surgery docket for this fall. There are reportedly several other patients in the preparation stages for the same treatment, with 10 brain-dead donors and five living donors on standby.
The woman who received the womb was born with a rare condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH). MRKH, which sees children born without a functioning womb, is observed in an estimated one in 5,000 live female births. Many others may lose their wombs as a result of cancer or conditions like endometriosis.