The first British baby to be born as a result of womb transplantation could arrive as soon as 2017, after doctors in the UK have given the green light for a clinical trial in which 10 British women will undergo the procedure.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on the world's first ever successful birth from a transplanted womb in a 36-year-old woman from Sweden.
The woman - who wishes to remain anonymous - was born without a womb. After receiving a donor womb from a 61-year-old family friend, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Vincent.
Now, doctors from Imperial College London in the UK have given their ethical approval for a clinical trial that will involve performing the procedure on 10 British women without wombs, giving them the opportunity to carry their own babies.
The trial will be led by Dr. Richard Smith, consultant gynecologist at the UK's Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital, who says he is "really, really pleased" the project has been given the go-ahead.
Each year, around 1 in 5,000 women are born without a womb - a condition known as Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser Syndrome (MRKH). Many more women lose their womb as a result of cancer.
Dr. Smith hopes the new trial will offer hope for women who are unable to carry a child as a result of such conditions.
"Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women," says Dr. Smith. "Surrogacy is an option but it does not answer the deep desire that women have to carry their own baby. For a woman to carry her own baby - that has to be a wonderful thing."
Women must be between the ages of 24-38 to take part in the clinical trial, or they must have had their eggs frozen by the age of 38. They must also be able to produce a satisfactory number of eggs; women who have received donor eggs are not eligible.
Additionally, women are required to have a healthy weight - a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or less - to take part, have no major medical problems, be eligible for care under the British National Health Service (NHS) and have a long-term partner.
Donor womb transplanted in 6-hour operation by 12 surgeons
Of the 304 women who have applied for the trial, 104 have met the strict criteria, of whom 10 will be selected for womb transplantation.
Prior to the trial, embryos will be created for each woman using their eggs and their partner's sperm.
The transplant will then be conducted by a team of 12 surgeons, in which each woman will receive a womb from a donor who is deemed brain dead but whose heart is still beating. It is estimated that the retrieval of the donor womb will take 3 hours and the transplant will take 6 hours.
"Donor retrieval is a bigger operation than transplanting the uterus into the recipient," notes Dr. Smith. "We don't want to subject a live donor to that operation."
The women will then take immunosuppressant drugs for 12 months and during pregnancy to reduce risk of the donated womb being rejected.
If all is well, each woman will be implanted with one of her embryos. If successful pregnancy is achieved, the baby would be delivered by cesarean section (C-section) at 35-37 weeks in order to limit damage to the transplanted womb during labor.
In order to reduce the need for lifelong use of immunosuppressant drugs, the women will have the transplanted womb removed 6 months after giving birth. Alternatively, they can try for another baby.
Dr. Smith has high hopes for the clinical trial:
"As we have seen from the tremendously successful womb transplant program being carried out by our colleagues in Sweden, this operation is clearly a viable option for those women who otherwise have absolutely no chance of carrying their own baby."
However, before the project can go ahead, Dr. Smith and his team must raise £500,000 ($760,000). To date, around £40,000 ($60,700) has been donated.
Despite this potential drawback, the team is optimistic that they will raise the required funds. ''I've always been an enormous optimist,'' says Dr. Smith. ''The project has run with no money from the start. Somehow or other, somebody has always turned up and given us enough money to keep it going.''
If the project is a success, the first baby born in the UK from a womb transplantation could arrive by late 2017.
If you wish to donate to this project, you can do so by visiting Womb Transplant UK.