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Early research

Uterine transplantation research has been in progress since 1999. It has gone all the way from studies on small animals to the world’s first human birth from a transplanted uterus. 

All research on transplant surgery requires animal studies, mice and rats being the most frequently used animal species. These animal models have the advantages that comprehensive accounts of the rodents’ normal physiology exist, handling them is relatively simple and the costs are comparatively low.

Various animal models

In its research relating to uterine transplantation, the team has systematically worked its way through a number of animal models. This is a precondition, laid down by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), for a clinical introduction of the practice.

After initially concentrating on small animals like mouse and rat, the researchers moved on to pig, sheep and later baboon as well. The latter’s blood vessels and the shape of its pelvic region and uterus are almost identical to those of humans.

All the animal studies have been examined and approved by the responsible authorities.

First trials in 1999

The first mouse trials began in 1999. It took around six months for the team to develop a surgical methodology for operating on both the donor animals and the recipients.

In a 2003 study, Professor Mats Brännström and his team reported the first mouse pregnancies worldwide that had culminated in live births.

After extensive discussions with research colleagues, especially in the U.S., the team carried out transplant trials in sheep. Previous attempts had shown that, with a high success rate, autologous ovary transplants (“autotransplantation”) — involving the same individual both as donor and, elsewhere in the body, as recipient — were feasible in sheep.

Viable for pregnancy

“We learned the technique at the University of Connecticut at Storrs in the U.S., initially assisted by Professor John McCracken, who is a pioneer in reproductive medical research. It took about a year before the autotransplantation method worked well in sheep,” says Brännström, who led the research.

“Since then we’ve demonstrated that in both the short and the long term, the sheep uterus survives and can sustain a pregnancy. The results showed that the surgery can be mastered in large animals as well, and we then moved on to a method in a non-human primate model.”

This type of uterine transplantation requires immunosuppressive agents to prevent rejection of the uterus. In the successful trials, the researchers showed that adjusting medication can prevent rejection episodes, and demonstrated survival of the uterus for nearly one year. 

Page Manager: Pontus Sundén|Last update: 1/8/2019

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