Since the 1970s a number of teams around the world have been researching the possibility of developing a womb transplant procedure and, unfortunately, often without collaboration between those teams.
The majority of the research published in the 1960s to the 1980s, involved transplantation of the entire female genital tract (ovaries, womb, cervix and upper vagina) in a range of different mammals. Transplant research, as a whole, has also tended to focus on life-saving transplantations (heart, kidney, liver) with womb transplant research being rather limited especially following advances in IVF techniques.
However, since the 1990s, tremendous advances have been made in the fields of transplantation and reproductive medicine – in particular, the first live birth after IVF treatment in a woman who had a transplanted kidney and in recent years a woman who had received transplanted ovarian tissue from her sister, gave birth to a healthy baby at The Portland Hospital in London.
In 2000 the world’s first womb transplant was performed on a 26 year old woman in Saudi Arabia. She had lost her own womb as a result of heavy bleeding following the birth of her child. However, the transplanted womb survivedfor only 99 days and it has now been acknowledged that the attempt was premature and our research shows the failure of the blood supply to the womb was predictable. Although this attempt was unsuccessful, much was learned and it was the stimulation for extensive research to continue around the world. In December 2010, our colleagues in Sweden were able to report a pregnancy as a result of a womb transplant on a rat.
Our own group here in the UK collaborates very closely with Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore and his team at the University of Indiana, Indianapolis, USA and we have regular contact with Professor Mats Brannstrom in Sweden.
We believe that with the continued advances in transplantation techniques, improved methods of controlling the immunology of transplantation, and advances in IVF technology, uterine transplantation (together with assisted conception) can bring an end to Absolute Uterine Factor Infertility for some women who currently have no chance of having their own child.