Researchers with Tel Aviv University in Israel say they have engineered a ‘receptive’ human uterus. They hope embryos will implant and grow on the bioengineered uterine wall.
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The team of bioengineers and gynecologists bioengineered cells to create a model of the uterine wall. If they are successful at getting embryos to implant and grow here, this could be a big step toward growing embryos in an artificially made biological womb.
‘We were able to develop a tissue-engineered model of the human uterine wall,’ Prof. David Elad told The Times of Israel. ‘The next step is to study how the embryos can implant into this wall.’
This technology has the potential to replace the artificial environments of petri dish and incubator when it comes to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Developing this biological environment is expected to produce ‘better results’ for embryo growth and survival, according to Elad.
Elad worked with Prof. Dan Grisaru (director of the Gynecological Oncology Unit) and Prof. Ariel Jaffa (former head of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Lis Maternity & Woman’s Hospital at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center). Elad and Jaffa have collaborating on reproductive bioengineering for over 25 years, even working with other researchers in Europe and the United States.
How they did it
According to The Times of Israel, Jaffa and Elad ‘took endometrial and smooth muscle cells from the uterus and co-cultured them in layers in the lab, subjecting them as well to hormonal manipulation.’
‘Through their engineering of the cells, they managed to create a “model that represents a receptive uterus.” [This] would be able, in theory, to be fertile ground for a newly fertilized egg to implant and develop.’
The team has sent off their research to medical and scientific journals for review.
‘You cannot do studies with the human uterus during pregnancy because of ethical and technical limitations. And animal studies are not representative,’ Elad said. ‘Having a biological artificial uterus — a tissue-engineered biological model — will help us increase the knowledge on how early human life happens. And how to improve chances of women getting pregnant.’
Additionally, this technology has the potential to be a gamechanger for transgender women looking to reproduce. At the end of last year, a woman in Brazil successfully delivered a baby thanks to a uterus transplant. The baby girl was conceived through IVF and was gestated in a uterus donated by a deceased 45-year-old.
‘By making pregnancy potentially available to trans women and even to cis men (with hormone treatments), uterus transplants could challenge social norms and preconceptions. Just as IVF has done by creating new family structures,’ writes Philip Ball in The Guardian.
Back in 2017, Dr. Richard Paulson of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine said there was no anatomical reason why a uterus couldn’t be transplanted into a transgender person’s body.
‘You could do it tomorrow,’ he said. ‘There would be additional challenges, but I don’t see any obvious problem that would preclude it. I personally suspect there are going to be trans women who are going to want to have a uterus and will likely get the transplant.’