Human bodies are becoming the ultimate renewable resource as the medical field continues to march forward into the 21st century. On Thursday, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic successfully completed the first ever uterus transplant in the United States, giving new hope to women who may have related childbirth issues. The surgery took place over the course of nine hours, and the 26-year-old patient (whose identity has been withheld to protect her privacy) is said to be in stable condition.
The screening process for the highly anticipated procedure began late last year, the Cleveland Clinic says, with a group of transplant specialists, obstetricians and gynecologists, bioethicists, psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers examining the applications of numerous candidates who suffer from Uterine Factor Infertility (UFI), described as “an irreversible condition affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of women worldwide.”
The transplant theoretically allows women who do not have a “competent” uterus, or one capable of carrying a fetus to term, to become pregnant and give birth, though it would have to be via in vitro fertilization. Prior to the procedure, the patient’s eggs were surgically removed, fertilized with her husband’s sperm, and subsequently frozen. In a year’s time, she will be able to have the embryos transferred back to her new uterus with the hopes of bearing a child.
“Women who are coping with UFI have few existing options,” Tommaso Falcone, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics-Gynecology at Cleveland Clinic, said last year, when the clinical trial was initially announced. “Although adoption and surrogacy provide opportunities for parenthood, both pose logistical challenges and may not be acceptable due to personal, cultural, or legal reasons.”
Interestingly enough, this transplant is not meant to be a permanent one — in fact, once the patient has had children, the uterus will be removed, as otherwise, she would be forced to take anti-rejection drugs for the remainder of her life.
“Unlike any other transplants, they are ‘ephemeral,’” noted Cleveland Clinic lead investigator Dr. Andreas Tzakis last year. “They are not intended to last for the duration of the recipient’s life, but will be maintained for only as long as is necessary to produce one or two children.”
Still, the mere availability of the procedure (and its successful first implementation) opens unprecedented doors for women across the country. Swedish surgeons have previously been able to complete the transplant, and that patient went on to have a baby.
The Ethics Board at the Cleveland Clinic has given clearance for a total of 10 such procedures thus far.