Uterus Transplant May Enable Pregnancy
Monday, January 15, 2007; 9:00 PM
-- A New York hospital is taking steps to offer the nation's first uterus transplant, a radical experiment that might allow women whose wombs were removed or are defective to bear children.
The wombs would come from dead donors, just as most other organs do, and would be removed after the recipient gives birth so she would not need anti-rejection drugs her whole life.
The hospital's ethics board has conditionally approved the plans, although the hospital's president warned women not to get false hopes because a transplant is not expected "any time in the near future."
Several experts cautioned that much more research must be done, and one declared this bold concept "not really ready for prime time."
The New York doctors just did a six-month trial run, showing that wombs could be obtained from organ donors, and now are screening potential recipients.
"I believe it's technically possible to do," said lead physician Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore.
However, even some scientists involved think they should produce more healthy offspring in animals before trying women.
Others note that about a thousand women already have become pregnant after kidney, heart and other transplants, with generally good results. They view uterus transplants as a way to help women whose only option now for a biological child is through a surrogate mom.
"If this is a passionate desire for a woman who's had surgical removal of a uterus, I would think this would be something she'd really want to pursue," although the risks would have to be carefully weighed, said Julia Rowland, director of the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship.
The transplant project is being led by Del Priore, a cancer specialist, and Dr. Jeanetta Stega, a gynecologic surgeon, at the New York Downtown Hospital, part of the New York-Presbyterian Health Care system.
Organ transplants usually are performed to save lives, but increasingly they are being done to improve quality of life. Hand transplants and the recent partial face transplant in France are examples.
Besides surgical complications that can prove fatal, the main risk in such operations is the need for lifelong immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection.