Professor Richard Smith and a small team of other gynaecologists and experts in infertility began researching the possibility of transplanting a viable womb into a woman either born without a womb or who had undergone a hysterectomy, in the late 1990s.
The doctors had long witnessed the devastating effects on women and their families and society in general, caused by absolute uterine infertility. At a time when advances in IVF were accelerating research showed that one in 5,000 females were born without a viable womb and an increasing number or women were unable to give birth because cancer or severe endometriosis, or other benign conditions, had led to them lose their wombs.
Surrogacy or adoption were the only opportunities for many women who wanted to have a family and both these options were, and to some degree remain, fraught with difficulties.
Over the past 25 years Professor Smith has collaborated with a multinational team of doctors, all of them giving their time and expertise free of charge. Unlike in other countries, the research in the UK, which has cost well over £1 million, has been carried out without the help of major grants and without any burden on the NHS.
- Private, gifts donations and doctors paying the bills themselves have allowed the research to reach this stage.
- The cost of each operation is around £25,000 and will be paid for by funds raised by the Charity. The operations will have no impact on NHS budgets.
- To date WombTransplantUK.org has raised just over £200,000
- To complete both programmes of operations, the Charity will need to raise a further £300,000
The team has been ready to undertake transplant operations for several years but the search or suitable donors was paused for over two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Academic research continued however, adding to the clinical advances that have helped tens of thousands of women with a number of serious gynaecological and fertility problems, over the past 20 plus years.
The team returned to active standby for a suitable donor uterus in August 2022.
So far, the wait for a suitable deceased donor uterus continues.
Two series of operations are planned:
- 10 operations transplanting a womb from a brain dead donor
- 5 operations transplanting a womb from a living relative of the recipient
- Each of these operations is planned to take place at The Churchill Hospital, part of Oxford University NHS Trust in Oxford
- Preliminary assessment, and post-operative care takes place at Queen Charing Cross and Queen Charlotte’s Hospitals in London and the Churchill Transplant Centre in Oxford, with obstetric care at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital. Charing Cross and Queen Charlotte’s Hospitals are part of Imperial College Healthcare, London.
- The embryo transfer procedures are carried out at The Lister Fertility Clinic in Chelsea, London.
- The surgical and medical team has members from five different hospitals in London and Oxford and is led by Professor Richard Smith and Consultant Transplant Surgeon Miss Isabel Quiroga.