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Researchers say they have already been contacted by hundreds of women who are interested in having such a transplant.

Mats Brannstrom et al [Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg] have worked for several years on transplanting uteruses in mice, and the recipients have successfully given birth.

The group has now been able to remove a uterus from a sheep and replace it several hours later, then show after 2-3 months that the organ is functioning normally. The next step is to try to get the sheep pregnant and to give birth. After that, the aim is to transplant uteruses between different animals, then to be tried in primates, and only then in humans.

Even so, he is hopeful that human womb transplants will be possible in 5 years. The recipient would have eggs harvested for in vitro fertilization (IVF) before the transplant; the eggs would then be fertilized and the embryos frozen, to be implanted after the womb transplant.

After having children, the womb would be removed, so the patient would not need to take immunosuppressant drugs for life. Although Brannstrom acknowledges that there may be concerns (some might find it unpalatable that a woman could carry her baby in the same womb that her mother used to carry her, for example) he doesn't think that it raises significant ethical issues compared with procedures such as egg or sperm donation.

"It's not transmission of genetic material," he says. "It's just lending your uterus out." 

[research presented 18June06, annual meeting, European Society of Human Reproduction & Embryology in Prague, the Czech Republic. [21June06,, doi:10.1038/news060619-7, Jo Marchant]