Infertility or the inability to have a baby can be devastating and affects approximately 10 percent of the female population. There are many conditions that prevent women from having children including Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser syndrome (or MKHS). MKHS is a rare disorder that affects a woman’s ability to conceive. At present, for every 10,000 women, only 1 to 2 will be affected. Both Sara Ottoson of Sweden and Melina Arnold of Australia have this condition. MKHS is characterized by the absence of a vagina and part of the cervix. Patients with this condition have normal breast development and functioning ovaries. Genetically, they also have female or double X-chromosomes and look like normal women. The problem comes to light during adolescence when a teen fails to have a period. The condition is also known as Vaginal Agenesis because they are born without a true vagina, a problem that can be corrected through surgical and non-surgical procedures. Unfortunately, they are unable to have children and usually adopt or use a surrogate mother. Those options, however, might soon change.
Both Ottoson and Arnold plan to have biological children using those mothers’ transplanted wombs next year. The wombs that these women resided in prior to their birth will potentially be used to nurture their unborn babies. Ottoson and Arnold will be making history in the same manner as Louise Brown did in 1978 when she became the first successful “test tube” or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) baby. Has a womb transplant been attempted before? Yes, about 10 years ago in Saudi Arabia but it was an unsuccessful procedure. After four months, the 25-year-old patient’s body rejected the transplanted uterus of a 46-year old woman. Ottoson will receive the uterus of her 56 year old mother but will not be able to conceive through IVF until she has waited a full year to make certain that her body will not reject the donated organ.
If womb transplant becomes successful, it will also be a powder keg regarding ethical and legal issues. It would also provide an option to women who are cancer survivors and desire fertility. All eyes will be on Ottoson and Arnold next year. It will be history in the making.
*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*