Up until now, women struggling with fertility issues haven’t had the best options for getting pregnant. While surrogacy and adoption are both incredible choices for many hopeful parents, treatments that help a mother-to-be have her own biological child are tricky. (Ask anyone who’s undergone hormone therapy, and they’ll tell you that sticking yourself with lots and lots of needles and paying a small fortune to do so isn’t exactly fun and games.)
But there’s soon going to be another option for women hoping to carry their own child to term: uterus transplants.
Yes, you read right. The Cleveland Clinic said in a statement this week that it hopes to offer uterus transplants in clinical trials—the first hospital in the U.S. to do so—for women between the ages of 21 to 39, according to the New York Times.
The first successful birth from a uterus transplant was at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg in September of last year. Of the nine transplants the hospital performed, there were five pregnancies and four births, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
What’s even more wild? Half of the uteruses were taken from mothers and given to their own daughters, meaning the same uterus was used to carry two generations. Pretty mind-blowing stuff.
Still, doctors at the Ohio hospital say that it’s still early days for transplants, with Dr. Tommaso Falcone, an ob-gyn with the hospital’s Women’s Health Institute, calling the approach “highly experimental,” according to the Times.
Here’s how it works, per the Times:
Surgeons remove the uterus, cervix, and part of the vagina from an organ donor who has recently died, along with the small uterine vessels that carry blood to the organ. The uterus can survive outside the body for at least six to eight hours if kept cold. The donor’s uterus is connected to the recipient’s vagina, and the uterine vessels are redirected to large blood vessels running outside the pelvis. The recipient’s ovaries are left in place, and if she has any remnant fallopian tubes, they are not connected to the transplant. The recipient will wait a year to heal before having in vitro fertilization.
Women who have the transplant have to take medication so their bodies don’t reject the new organ and have to have the uterus removed after delivering their first or second child. And there are other complications: The Cleveland Clinic requires women to be in stable relationships (for moral, emotional, and financial support) and have ovaries.
In terms of modern medicine, this procedure definitely pushes the envelope for its complexity, but we’d wager that even more than that, the ramifications for women who want to carry and deliver their own children will be huge. Science!