What Does The UK's First Successful Womb Transplant Mean For The Trans Community?

Transplants for trans women might not be available for a few more decades.
Sterile table holding surgical equipment in the operating room
Sterile table holding surgical equipment in the operating room
Ugur Karakoc via Getty Images

The UK’s first womb transplant was just confirmed in a landmark moment for British surgery.

But, surgeons have made it clear that this does not mean a similar procedure could be carried out for trans women – women who are not assigned female at birth, but who transition later in life – just yet.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why was this womb surgery such a big deal?

Imperial College London’s Professor Richard Smith and Oxford Transplant Centre’s Isabel Quiroga have announced that they successfully transplanted a womb from one living donor, 40, to the 34-year-old recipient, who is also her sister.

Both women chose to remain anonymous.

The operation took around 17 hours in adjoining operating theatres at the Churchill hospital, Oxford.

Although the surgery happened in February, doctors have now revealed both have recovered well and the younger sister has embryos in storage waiting to be transferred.

Transplant surgeon, Dr Quiroga, told the BBC the transplanted womb is “functioning perfectly”, and the patient had her first period two weeks after surgery.

She does need to take immunosuppressive drugs to stop her body rejecting the new tissue, and those have long-term health risks. That means the womb will be removed after a maximum of two pregnancies.

This is by no means a new technique. Around 100 womb transplants have been performed successfully, and around 50 babies around the world born from a transplanted womb.

The first live birth from a transplanted uterus actually occurred back in 2014.

But, as medical director of CREATE Fertility and Senior NHS Consultant, Professor Geeta Nargund, told HuffPost UK over email, this is still a huge milestone for women in the UK.

It can be used on any women born without a womb or who have a womb removed for medical reasons.

She explained: “The transplant procedure does come with risks, but each patient is assessed on a case-by-case basis, the risks are fully explained and counselling is offered to ensure both donor and recipient are fully informed before consenting to the procedure.

“Today we celebrate the success of this medical procedure in the UK, which brings hope to women with uterine factor infertility.”

However, she did note that there are still elements to work out, such as “funding and access to this procedure.”

Can trans women get this surgery?

Not just yet, unfortunately.

As Professor Smith told PA news agency, the different anatomy of trans women and cis women (women who have identified as female since birth), complicates matters.

He said the pelvis shape and anatomy along with the vascular anatomy all mean there are too many issues with the microbiome – that’s the micro-organisms which live in the body.

Asked about what it means for the trans community, Professor Smith said: “There’s been talk of that, plenty of talk within the press, about that. And we’re very aware that 2010 Gender Equality Act mandates equal treatment for cisgender and transgender women,

“But that assumes technical feasibility. And in this case, currently, there is not technical feasibility.

“My own sense is if there are transgender transplants that are going to take place, they are many years off. There are an awful lot of steps to go through.”

How long until trans women can get access to womb transplants?

Professor Smith predicted: “My suspicion is a minimum of 10 to 20 years.”

Not everyone agrees though.

University of Gothenburg’s Professor Mats Brannstrom – who helped deliver the first live birth from a transplanted uterus – told Euronext Next in February that it may take five to 10 years.

”If it’s an efficient method with no risk, I don’t think there are any ethical boundaries,” he said.

“We change the legal statutes, we do corrective surgery for other things in the body. So this is part of it.”

Similarly, University of Alabama’s Dr Paige Porrett told the MailOnline last week that it was “medically possible” for such a procedure, but there is a “lot more work” before something like that can be done safely.


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