[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Womb transplant baby 'within three years'
by Martin Hutchinson
BBC News Online health staff in Madrid

The end result of a womb transplant?
Scientists claim that the first human baby could be born from a transplanted womb within three years.

Animal experiments have dismissed many of the concerns that womb transplants could not produce healthy babies.

The Swedish expert behind the research says that one of the best candidates to be an organ donor would be the patient's own mother - raising the prospect of carrying your children in the same womb that carried you.

He says that it may even be technically possible one day to transplant a womb into a man, and use hormone injections to allow a pregnancy to succeed.

However, it would be the first organ transplant which is not needed to cure a life-threatening illness, and there is likely to be a debate over whether such major surgery - and powerful immune-suppressing drugs - can be justified.

Professor Mats Brannstrom, presenting his work at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Madrid on Tuesday, said that he had been inundated with pleas for help from women after it was revealed last year that he had transplanted wombs into mice - and produced live baby mice.

Womb surgery

There are many thousands of women of childbearing age who have perfectly good ovaries, but no womb - some who were born without one, and some whose wombs were removed at a young age, either as a result of cancer, or as a result of another kind of medical emergency.

Until recently, there has been no prospect of them bearing their own children, leaving them only the option of surrogacy - which is illegal in many countries.

Studies of other female transplant patients taking immunosuppressant drugs during pregnancy have not shown any adverse effects.

The first human womb transplant has already been attempted by surgeons in Saudi Arabia.

Their success was short-lived - the organ had to removed less than 100 days later when a blood supply failure caused the transplanted tissue to start dying. There was no attempt to start a pregnancy with this patient.

Professor Brannstrom plans to use a different surgical technique to avoid this problem.

Legal option

He said that having a transplant organ was more desirable than a simple surrogacy arrangement with the mother and sister in question.

He said: "In many countries, surrogacy is illegal - and in others, the person who gives birth to the baby is officially recorded as the parent.

"In addition, it is impossible to control lifestyle factors, even if a surrogate promises they will not drink or smoke or take drugs during pregnancy."

However, all major abdominal surgery carries a risk of death or serious injury - the risk of just having a general anaesthetic is reckoned at one in every 3,000 patients.

Dr Phil Dyer, the president of the British Transplantation Society, told BBC News Online that taking immunosuppressing drugs also presented a risk.

He said: "There will be a debate over whether organs should be transplanted where there is no direct benefit to the patient in terms of their health - though there might of course be an emotional benefit in terms of quality of life."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific