The Korea Herald


Team carries out Korea's first successful uterus transplant

By Amber Anne Roos

Published : Nov. 17, 2023 - 16:34

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SMC's multidisciplinary uterus transplant team (Yonhap) SMC's multidisciplinary uterus transplant team (Yonhap)

Samsung Medical Center has carried out the first successful uterus transplantation in South Korea.

During the surgery in January this year, the multidisciplinary team were able to transfer the uterus to a 35-year-old woman with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome.

MRKH is a rare disorder, which affects about 1 in 5,000 females at birth, characterized by an underdeveloped or absent uterus. A uterus transplant gives women without functioning wombs -- such as those with MRKH -- the opportunity to conceive children.

Prior to the successful operation, the patient had already undergone one failed transplant, removed only two weeks after the initial surgery. Fortunately, the medical team was able to carry out a second transplant in January 2023. With the patient having been in stable condition for over 10 months, Samsung Medical Center declared the operation successful.

For both the patient and the medical team, the surgery itself was only half of the battle. Although the outcome of the transplant is promising, the success of a uterus transplant is not only determined by the acceptance of the organ, but also the delivery of a healthy baby. As the transplanted womb seems to be functioning well, the team is hopeful of a healthy birth.

A uterus transplant is not intended to be permanent. After one or two pregnancies, the uterus is surgically removed again. This is done to avoid a life-long dependency on medication -- immunosuppressive drugs -- needed to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted uterus.

Uterus transplants are still considered to be a fairly experimental surgery worldwide. The first successful womb transplant to result in the birth of a healthy baby was performed in Sweden in 2014. Medical teams in several other countries -- including the UK, Germany, and India -- have also carried out successful transplants.

Besides the uniqueness of the surgery, it is also a costly procedure that is not covered by National Health Insurance.

Nevertheless, for infertile women wishing to give birth to biological children, a uterus transplant is currently their only option, as childbirth through surrogacy -- a process where another person carries the pregnancy on behalf of the intended parent --is currently not recognized by South Korean law.