First womb transplant to take place in UK

Tilden Lamb and his partner Sophie Lewis, who was 16 when she received the news that she would never

Tilden Lamb and his partner Sophie Lewis, who was 16 when she received the news that she would never be able to carry a child of her own. Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The first womb transplant in the UK will take place within months after doctors were given the go-ahead for the procedure.

Ten British women without wombs will get the chance to carry their own babies after approval was granted by a special committee at Imperial College London.

A clinical trial will launch in the spring and more than 100 women have been identified as potential recipients of donor wombs.

Around one in 5,000 women is born without a womb, while others lose their womb to cancer.

Richard Smith will lead the team hoping to perform the UK's first ever womb transplant following the success of the procedure in Sweden.

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Mr Smith said childlessness could be a 'disaster' for couples, but the technique would offer hope to those whose only other option is surrogacy or adoption.

If the trial is successful, the first British baby born as a result of a womb transplant could arrive in late 2017 or 2018, with more in the future.

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Mr Smith, 55, a consultant gynaecologist at the Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital, has been working on the project for 19 years.

He said he was 'really, really pleased' to have been granted approval for the move, which follows the birth of a baby boy in Sweden last year.

He said: 'I've met many of the women who want this and it's really important for them and their partners.

'There is no doubting that, for many couples, childlessness is a disaster.

'Infertility is a difficult thing to treat for these women. 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.'

The 10 women who will be selected for the trial must all meet strict criteria, which includes being 38 or under, having a long-term partner and being a healthy weight.

More than 300 women have approached the Womb Transplant UK team, of whom 104 meet the criteria.

Before the trial starts, embryos will be created and frozen using each woman's eggs and sperm from her partner.

The women will then undergo a six-hour transplant operation to receive a womb from a donor who is classed as brain dead but whose heart has been kept beating.

After 12 months on immunosuppressant drugs and close monitoring, each woman will be implanted with one of her embryos, with the hope of achieving a successful pregnancy.

Any baby would be delivered by Caesarean section to prevent the donor womb going through the stresses and strains of labour.

Mr Smith said the trial would use deceased donors rather than living ones owing to the complexities of the operation.

'Donor retrieval is a bigger operation than transplanting the uterus into the recipient,' he said. 'We don't want to subject a live donor to that operation.'

Six months after giving birth, each woman will be given the option of trying for one more baby, or the womb will be removed by surgeons.

This is to minimise the risk of keeping women on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives, which have side-effects, including an increased risk of cancer.

Mr Smith needs to raise £500,000 for the trial.

'I've always been an enormous optimist,' he said. '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.'

Organ donor co-ordinators have suggested that around five wombs per year could be made available to the surgical team.

Sophie's story

Sophie Lewis was 16 when she received the news that she would never be able to carry a child of her own.

The teenager, whose periods had failed to start, was told she had MRKH (Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser) syndrome, which meant her womb had never developed.

The condition is thought to affect one in 5,000 women and the only options for having a family are usually surrogacy or adoption.

'I don't think it really sunk in at the time, I was doing my GCSEs and I was having fun with my friends,' said Ms Lewis.

'I was upset but I think it was easier to take on board because I was quite young.'

But as Ms Lewis got older, the concern over whether she would have children grew stronger.

Now 30, she is preparing to marry her long-term partner Tilden Lamb, 38, a recruitment consultant, next year.

'We have been together five and a half years now and he feels the same as I do,' said Ms Lewis, who works in e-learning, and is hoping to be one of the 10 women taking part in the trial for womb transplants.

'I was always open with him from day one and we have discussed surrogacy and adoption. We are very much 'what will be, will be', but he is excited about the opportunity offered by a transplant.

'When I was 16, I was told that I would never have children or that I would need to use a surrogate or look at adoption. But then this whole other opportunity opened up to me.'

Ms Lewis is mindful of the fact a womb transplant is still relatively experimental, but puts her faith in the doctors leading the clinical trial.

'It's a huge operation but it's very exciting to be given this opportunity,' she said. 'To be able to carry my own child would be amazing.

'If I don't get picked, then we will go down the surrogacy route.'

The news last year that a baby had been born in Sweden using the same technique left her in tears.

'It was a very exciting time, I was so emotional, I did not know what to do,' Ms Lewis said.

'It was a massive shock but it was an amazing thing to see and hear. I took a lot of comfort from the fact that there's a chance it might work.'

Ms Lewis's parents are very supportive, although her mother worries about the implications of the surgery.

'She's worried because it's a big operation,' Ms Lewis said. 'But then on the other side she understands why I would want to do it.

'I think carrying your own child would be amazing. With a surrogate, you wouldn't feel the baby kick or move around. To be able to feel your baby move must be amazing.

'I want to experience the love you have for your child. It makes a family really.'

•Are you one of the women affected by the womb transplant? Email our health correspondent

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