The Bioengineered Uterus

Is it possible for a fetus to come to term outside the body?

Bioengineered organs have a number of practical advantages over donor transplants, including the fact that recipients wouldn’t need to take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives, as transplant recipients typically do to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ. “A bio-regenerated uterus allows you to avoid immunosuppression, and you get rid of the risks of surgery for the person donating the uterus,” says Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “The failure rates of transplanted organs are high, and we don’t have enough organs. Bioengineered organs are definitely the long-term solution.”

But the bioengineered uterus is years, if not decades, away. Hellström’s research group at the University of Gothenburg is on the cutting edge with their recent experiments in rat-uterus decellularization, a process that involves removing cells from tissue, leaving behind only the extracellular matrix (ECM), which then serves as a 3-D scaffold for introducing new cells. Yet Hellström laughed at my suggestion that artificial-uterus transplants might be available within 10 years: “Look at how long it took my colleague [Mäts Brannström] to develop the live-donor uterus transplant: 15 years of nonstop work. Now I have the same journey to make, the only difference being that my colleagues started with perfect material to transplant. I’m constructing the material as well.”

British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane described artificial uteruses in 1924; science fiction authors weren't far behind. Aldous Huxley described an artificial womb in his 1932 classic Brave New World.

More recently, Lois McMaster Bujold described an uterine replicator in her 1986 novel Shards of Honor.

Fans of Frank Herbert of course recall the creepy procreative stump from his 1972 novel Hellstrom's Hive.

Read much more in this excellent article from The Atlantic>

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