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Swedish doctors transplant wombs into 9 women

By Maria Cheng

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 13 2014 1:48 p.m. MST

"If this had been possible when I was younger, no doubt I would have been interested," she said. Gimre, who has two foster children, said the only option for women like her to have biological children is via surrogacy, which is illegal in many European countries, including Norway and Sweden.

Fertility experts have hailed the project as significant but stress it's unknown whether the transplants will result in healthy babies.

The technique used in Sweden, using live donors, is somewhat controversial. In Britain, doctors are also planning to perform uterus transplants, but will only use wombs from dying or dead people. That was also the case in Turkey. Last year, Turkish doctors announced their patient got pregnant but the pregnancy failed after two months.

"Mats has done something amazing and we understand completely why he has taken this route, but we are wary of that approach," said Dr. Richard Smith, head of the U.K. charity Womb Transplant UK, which is trying to raise 500,000 pounds ($823,000) to carry out five operations in Britain.

He said removing a womb for donation is like a radical hysterectomy but it requires taking a bigger chunk of the surrounding blood vessels to ensure adequate blood flow, raising the risk of complications for the donor. Smith said British officials don't consider it ethical to let donors take such chances for an operation that isn't considered life-saving.

Smith said the biggest question is how any pregnancies will proceed.

"The principal concern for me is if the baby will get enough nourishment from the placenta and if the blood flow is good enough," he said.

All of the women who received womb transplants will need to take anti-rejection medicines, but Smith said data from women who have received kidney transplants doesn't suggest their babies are at any increased risk from the drugs.

Brannstrom said using live donors allowed them to ensure the donated wombs were functional and didn't have any problems like an HPV infection.

Doctors in Saudi Arabia performed the first womb transplant in 2000, using a live donor, but it had to be removed after three months because of a blood clot.

Brannstrom said he and his colleagues hope to start transferring embryos into some of their patients soon, possibly within months. The Swedish researchers and others have previously reported successful uterus transplants in animals including mice, sheep and baboons, but no offspring from the primates were produced.

After a maximum of two pregnancies, the wombs will be removed so the women can stop taking the anti-rejection drugs, which can cause high blood pressure, swelling and diabetes and may also raise the risk of some types of cancer.

Other experts said if the operations are successful, womb transplants could be an alternative for women who have few choices.

"What remains to be seen is whether this is a viable option or if this is going to be confined to research and limited experimentation," said Dr. Yacoub Khalaf, director of the Assisted Conception unit at Guy's and St. Thomas' hospital in London, who was unconnected to any of the womb transplant projects.

Brannstrom warned the transplants might not result in children but remained optimistic.

"This is a research study," he said. "It could lead to (the women) having children, but there are no guarantees ... what is certain is that they are making a contribution to science."

Cheng reported from London.

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