Whoa, Science: Woman Might Be Pregnant Using Womb She Once Occupied

Swedish doctors conduct a practice session before a womb transplant operation. (Photo: AP/JOHAN WINBORG)It sounds like a futuristic medical miracle: A woman born without a womb gets a shot at giving birth to a baby after undergoing a womb transplant (with her own mother serving as the donor) followed by a successful embryo transfer.

But it's actually happened.

Now, if a pregnancy results, the unidentified woman (who used her own egg in the procedure) will become the first to give birth from a transplanted womb and the baby would be the first born to a mother using the same womb she was born from.

"We are hopeful that a baby will be produced in nine months," Mats Brannstrom, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Sweden's University of Gothenburg, who led the transplant team, tells Yahoo Shine. "Right now, we have to wait and see. Even if the embryo is high-quality, there's still a 25 percent chance that it will result in a baby." Incidentally, those are the same odds an average woman has of an embryo turning into a viable pregnancy, and, according to Brannstorm, the fact that the womb belongs to the woman's mother helps increase the odds of a successful pregnancy because, much like with any other type of organ donation, genetic similarity plays a role in whether the patient's body will reject the organ.

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Brannstorm's team conducted eight other successful womb transplants between September 2012 and April 2013 among women who suffer from MRKH syndrome, a rare disorder that prevents the womb from developing. Those with the condition have ovaries and even produce eggs, but, as in the case of the woman who received her mother's womb, the other eight women will have to have their eggs fertilized outside their bodies and have the embryos implanted.

It's the second time in recent history that a woman has made headlines for a transplanted womb. Last May, Derya Sert, 22, was the first woman in the world to undergo a successful womb transplant from a deceased donor and become pregnant. However, she lost her baby at 8 weeks after its heart stopped beating and doctors had to terminate her pregnancy.

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"Less than 1 percent of women are born without a uterus, so it's rare, but we do see similar cases, especially in women from countries where access to reproductive technology is limited or unavailable mainly due to political and religious issues," Hal Danzer, M.D., co-founder of Southern California Reproductive Center and a reproductive endocrinologist board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology (who was not involved with the procedure), tells Yahoo Shine. These types of experimental operations also carry ethical issues, he adds. Since womb transplants are such a new concept, the health risks for the baby (developmental problems, premature birth) are largely unknown. "For example, if the recipient's body rejects the womb, she'll have to undergo hours of potentially risky surgery to remove the organ," says Danzer. There are also psychological matters to consider, like whether or not the donor and the couple are prepared for the emotional highs and lows of the surgery. As with other reproductive procedures, all parties must undergo psychological testing to make sure it's a good fit.

The procedure may seem radical; however, as Danzer points out, so once did treatments such as in vitro fertilization. Now, of course, IVF and similar procedures are common alternatives for couples struggling with fertility and have resulted in hundreds of thousands of births since being introduced more than 30 years ago. "That's why we have ethics committees, evolving technology and extensive counseling for experiments like these," he says. "It's an evolving science."

According to Danzer, a transferred embryo takes about 10 to 12 days to turn into a pregnancy, so for now, it's a waiting game to find out whether the surgery is a success. "These are exciting developments for science," says Danzer, "that we'll hopefully know more about soon."

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