Two assistant Penn Medicine professors successfully facilitated their first uterine transplant birth – the eighth successful uterine transplant birth in the United States.
Kathleen O’Neill, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Med, and Paige Porrett, an assistant professor of transplant surgery at Penn Med, are co-principal investigators on the Uterine Factor Infertility Trial, which aims to offer uterus transplantation surgery as an effective solution to infertility. Launched in 2017, the trial provides women with uterine factor infertility, a type of infertility that affects as many as 5% of women around the world, with a chance at parenthood.
Jennifer Gobrecht, a 33-year-old woman who received a uterus transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania under Porrett and O’Neill’s trial in 2018, gave birth to a boy on Jan. 9, making it the first successful post-uterus transplant birth by Penn Med.
“The challenge of the uterus transplant is it takes a long time to get from point A to point Z – point Z being that healthy birth – so I had many milestones along the way," Porrett said. "It was me and the team. It was over 120 people who contributed to this milestone, this achievement.”
O'Neill said their team takes a uterus from either someone who has passed away and donated their organs or from someone alive who has completed their family well-being. They then transplant the uterus into the individual with UFI.
O'Neill added women with UFI were born without a uterus, had the uterus surgically removed, or had a uterus not functioning properly, and therefore cannot carry a child.
“Infertility is a disease. It is not an inconvenience. It is a disease, and the American Medical Association designated that in 2017, and it needs treatment," O'Neill said. "I think a lot of the problem for reproductive medicine in general is that it had not been viewed in that way.”
Many critics of the uterine transplant program argue that the $200,000 to $300,000 cost of a uterine transplantation is unaffordable and unlikely to be covered by health insurers, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Other obstacles for the uterus transplant include the over six-hour surgery, 104 weekly blood samples post transplant, and over 30 biopsies to monitor the patient’s body, according to Penn Today.
Porrett said she and O’Neill found that the biggest hesitation for potential recipients of the uterus transplant was the need to take anti-rejection medications during pregnancy and the unknown side effects of the medication. Porrett added she was initially apprehensive about joining the trial because of the risky surgeries.
O'Neill said while she is proud of their work on the trial, uterus transplant should never be the only option available to women.
“Currently, women can use a gestational carrier or they can adopt," O'Neill said. "I think those are very good options, and I think they are sufficient for some people with uterine factor infertility.”