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SCIENCE REPORT – March 20, 2002: Uterus Transplant Operation - 2002-03-19

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Doctors in Saudi Arabia have performed the first human uterus transplant operation.

The doctors say the woman who received the uterus had two monthly fertile periods after the operation. However, the uterus had to be removed after three months. Doctors say the experiment shows that a uterus transplant operation is technically possible. Yet some experts say it is very risky and question its value.

The idea of uterus transplants was first explored in the Nineteen-Fifties. Little progress had been made since then. Many scientists considered it too difficult because of the many small and complex blood vessels that must be connected.

The uterus transplant operation was performed two years ago at the King Fahad Hospital and Research Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Doctors transplanted the uterus into a twenty-six year old Saudi woman. Doctors had removed her uterus six years earlier because of uncontrolled bleeding after the birth of her first child. The woman wanted to have another baby. The transplant organ came from a forty-six year old woman. She had a condition that required the removal of her reproductive organs. However, her uterus was healthy.

The younger woman took powerful drugs both before and after the operation so her body would not reject the organ. The drugs suppressed her body’s natural defenses against disease. She also was given hormone injections to help the transplanted uterus develop normally.

The doctors say the uterus performed normally for ninety-nine days. Then tests showed that blood flow to the organ had stopped. That forced doctors to remove it.The International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics described the experiment. A commentary published with the report said the operation should be considered a success. Some American experts said the experiment offered hope to women who want to have a baby and have been unable to do so.

Other experts question the idea of such a transplant operation. Most organ transplant operations are done to save a patient’s life. They argue that a uterus is not necessary for a woman’s survival. They also note that the anti-rejection drugs that a woman must take have strong side effects. These might harm a developing fetus.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.