First UK transplant: woman receives sister's womb

side view close up of pregnant woman touching her belly
The first UK womb transplant has been carried outOscar Wong - Getty Images

The UK's first-ever womb transplant has been carried out by surgeons in Oxford. In February, a 40-year-old woman donated her womb to her 34-year-old sister, who was born without a womb. Six months on from the surgery, doctors have confirmed that the sisters have both recovered well and that the younger sister is planning to have her own embryos implanted later this year following a previous IVF treatment. They also revealed that - two weeks after the operation - the recipient had her first period.

The multiple procedures were carried out by a team of around 20 in adjoining theatres at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, which - in its entirety - lasted about 17 hours. According to reports, the surgery cost £25,000 and was funded by Womb Transplant UK. However, while the NHS, theatre time and patients' hospital stay costs were covered, the surgeons and medical staff involved were not paid for their time.

doctor listening to belly of pregnant woman
JGI/Jamie Grill - Getty Images

Professor Richard Smith, one of the two leading surgeons labelled the operations a "massive success," revealing that he and the sisters "were all in tears."

"It was very, very emotional. I think it was probably the most stressful week of our surgical careers, but also unbelievably positive. The donor and recipient are just over the moon," he added.

Isabel Quiroga, the transplant surgeon who led the womb implantation also commented on the recipient's reaction. She too recalled how she was "absolutely over the moon," and is "hoping that she can go on to have not one but two babies." Plus, that her "womb is functioning perfectly and we are monitoring her progress very closely."

In addition, Professor Smith expressed that the team were just "really happy" the donor was "completely back to normal after her big op," and that the recipient is "doing really well on her immunosuppressive therapy." (as with all organ transplants, recipients are required to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent tissue rejection. But because transplants carry some long-term risks, the woman will have to have her uterus removed after a maximum of two pregnancies.)

first uk womb transplant
Womb Transplant UK

Following the successful surgeries, Dr Raj Mathur, chair of the British Fertility Society detailed the work as a "remarkable achievement," and the "dawn of a new age."

"You have got to remember some of these patients are in the most difficult fertility situations that you can imagine," he said. This includes being born without a uterus, or having lost their uterus due to cancer or in labour.

"Up until now we have really not had any way of helping them other than surrogacy."

In terms of the surgery itself - while this is the first UK womb transplant - it's not the first time it's ever been done. In 2014, a woman in Sweden became the first person to give birth as a result of a transplant after she received a donated womb from a friend in her 60s.

Fast-forward to 2023, and over 90 womb transplants have taken place worldwide, as per The Guardian. This includes surgeries in the US, Sweden, Turkey, Brazil, India, Germany, France, China and the Czech Republic. And so far, over 50 babies have been born because of it.

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