The recent announcement of the first uterine transplant (UT) to take place in the United States is the latest success in an exciting saga of medical progress. Uterine transplantation is a surgical procedure whereby a healthy uterus is transplanted into a woman whose own uterus is infertile or who was born without a uterus. FBR has compiled a short history of UTs and the role that animal testing played in their evolution.

Research into UTs began as early as 1918, but was severely limited by organ rejection. Research continued, using animal models to develop drugs designed to suppress the immune response towards the transplanted uterus. This led to a breakthrough in 2010 when researchers announced the first successful allogenic transplant (allogenic means between the transplant from a donor genetically distinct from the recipient). The rat subsequently gave birth to healthy offspring.

Following more animal research into organ rejection, scientists were able to develop new drugs that allowed, in 2011, the first UT from a deceased donor. Research continued, with surgeons in Sweden developing new operating techniques by working with rats, pigs, rabbits, and baboons.

Using the experience gained from animal trials, doctors announced in 2014 the first successful pregnancy born to a UT recipient. The mother had been born without a uterus and was able to receive one from a 61-year-old live donor. Since then, researchers have continued to advance their surgical techniques and anti-rejection drugs. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic went on to preform the first uterus transplant in February of 2016.

While many animal models contributed to the advancement of organ transplantation, the role that genetically modified mice played in understanding the complex immune system cannot be overstated. Understanding the various components of the immune system was key to developing means for suppressing key components and thus minimizing the side effects of early immunosuppressive drugs. With the first transplants set to take place in the United States in 2016, there should be much progress ahead in the field.

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