Derya Sert, a woman who had the world’s first successful womb transplant, is set to undergo IVF in a bid to fulfill her dream of motherhood.
Speaking in London last week, her surgeon Professor Omer Ozkan revealed that the married housewife has responded so well to treatment that his medical team is confident the first “donor womb” pregnancy is now possible.
But some British experts, including Lord Winston, claim that a pregnancy could cause potentially fatal complications. And the baby would have to be born by caesarean, which carries the risks of surgery.
Prof. Omer Ozkan, who performed the pioneering transplant on 22-year-old Derya Sert in August last year, announced her IVF treatment at a conference attended by the world’s top transplant specialists. The event was organized by Richard Smith, a consultant at Imperial College London who could be ready to perform similar operations on British women in just two years.
Prof. Omer Ozkan, from Akdeniz University in Antalya, Turkey, also revealed three more women are to undergo transplants at his clinic, providing Derya Sert has a healthy baby.
He said: “This is the longest time any woman has gone without rejecting an implanted womb and we wanted to reach the year-and-a-half mark before going ahead. That will hopefully happen in three months’ time as things are looking good so far.”
Prof. Omer Ozkan described Derya Sert’s health as “absolutely normal”, adding: “It’s not only important for us to have this contact for the patient, it’s also important for future cases.”
Derya Sert, who is married to 35-year-old Mustafa, has said: “If I had a magic wand, I would want to be pregnant now. I just want to hold my baby in my arms, to be a mother.”
Prof. Omer Ozkan and his team will take two out of eight embryos frozen before Derya Sert’s treatment, thaw them and transfer them into her uterus. The hope is this will lead to at least one baby – or even twins.
Women who have lost their wombs to cancer need to have been free of the disease for at least five years before they can be considered for a transplant.
But womb transplants have been criticized by experts because they are not carried out to “save a life”.
Risks include rejection of the new womb and potential side effects during pregnancy from the powerful anti-rejection drugs.
After the first womb transplant, carried out in Saudi Arabia in 2000, the donated organ “failed” after three months because the blood vessels used to connect it were too narrow and became blocked by clots.
However, Prof. Omer Ozkan does not doubt womb transplants are worth the risks for thousands of women otherwise unable to have a “normal” pregnancy.
He said: “Many people think that womb transplants aren’t necessary because they’re not lifesaving operations and that women have the option of adoption or surrogacy.
“But we’ve had applications from women all over the world wanting womb transplants. This is absolutely necessary for these women: you just have to ask them to realize this.”
A total of 100 women have now been screened by Prof. Omer Ozkan in addition to Derya Sert, who received her healthy organ from a car-crash victim. Ten of these have been selected as possible recipients. Of these, three have been approved for a transplant and have undergone fertility treatment. This has resulted in viable embryos, which have been put on ice.
Prof. Omer Ozkan could now have a race on his hands to become the first doctor to achieve a successful pregnancy from a womb transplant.
Swedish experts carried out two procedures in September, both involving the world’s first mother-to-daughter uterus transplants.
This week, they announced another two operations – a mother-to-daughter and an aunt-to-niece – with more transplants scheduled for early 2013. All involve live transplants, whereas Prof. Omer Ozkan’s Turkish team used wombs from dead donors.
The scientists and doctors at the University of Gothenburg have received approval to complete ten procedures in total. The remaining six procedures, scheduled for next year, include a woman donating to her son’s wife and another giving her womb to her younger sister.
The next step is to begin embryo implantation at the end of 2013.
Doctors are divided over whether to use living or dead donors. Some experts are uncomfortable with taking the womb from a living woman when it is not for life-saving reasons. With live transplants, there are risks to two living patients. However, an organ from a living donor can be a better match.