A New York hospital is taking steps to offer the nation's first uterus transplant, a radical experiment that might allow women whose wombs were removed or are defective to bear children.
The wombs would come from dead donors, just as most other organs do, and would be removed after the recipient gives birth so she would not need anti-rejection drugs her whole life.
The hospital's ethics board has conditionally approved the plans, although the hospital's president warned women not to get false hopes because a transplant was not expected "any time in the near future."
Several experts said much more research must be done.
The New York doctors just did a six-month trial run, showing that wombs could be obtained from organ donors, and now are screening potential recipients.
"I believe it's technically possible to do," lead physician Giuseppe Del Priore said.
However, some scientists involved think researchers should produce more healthy offspring in animals before trying women.
The transplant project is being led by Del Priore, a cancer specialist, and Jeanetta Stega, a gynecologic surgeon, at the New York Downtown Hospital.
Organ transplants usually are performed to save lives, but increasingly they are being done to improve quality of life.
A uterus transplant has been tried only once - in Saudi Arabia in 2000. That womb came from a live donor and had to be removed three months later because of a blood clot. Stega thinks that transplanting more blood vessels and using better anticlotting drugs would lessen this risk.
The cost could top $500,000, including two weeks of hospitalization, Del Priore said. He expects it to be shared by the hospital, charities that back infertility research, the patient, and insurers who cover the embryo creation part.
Some outsiders question whether it is right to take a uterus unless a donor agrees before death.