A new womb for the baby
Dr Mats Brannstrom’s phone begins to buzz and the words ”Donor 9” flash up on the screen. He apologises, picks up and then starts nodding patiently, answering the caller’s questions under his breath.
It’s now more than a year since Brannstrom and his team carried out nine pioneering womb transplants, five of them mother-to-daughter, in Gothenburg, Sweden. But Brannstrom and his colleagues are still on call for both donors and recipients 24 hours a day.
”They do ring me a lot,” he says, as he pads downstairs, still wearing surgical clothes and battered rubber hospital slip-ons, to show me the rooms at the Sahlgrenska Hospital where the operations took place.
Part of the reason for this 24-hour aftercare is that the surgery was unexpectedly difficult: the operation to remove the womb, which studies on baboons had indicated would take three to four hours, ended up taking between 10 and 13 hours in the theatre.
Brannstrom’s team transplanted not just the womb but also long veins and arteries, which were then attached directly to the large blood vessels deep in the recipient’s pelvis.
This will hopefully give a much better flow of blood to the foetus if the women succeed in getting pregnant, but it greatly complicated the surgery. Even Dr Andreas Tzakis, the eminent US transplant surgeon Brannstrom flew in to oversee the operations, was caught by surprise.
”He’s one of the absolute top transplant surgeons in the world, and he says that this is possibly the most difficult transplantation he has ever done,” Brannstrom says.
One of the recipients later suffered from a uterine infection, which meant the subsequent removal of the donated womb. Another woman’s womb was removed after she suffered thrombosis. But five women have already had their first embryos transplanted by IVF. This puts Brannstrom and Sahlgrenksa Institute in the lead in the race for the first healthy baby from a transplanted womb. And thousands of women without wombs around the world are watching every development.