Translated from the original Greek
BOSTON – Dr. Andreas Tzakis is one of the most distinguished transplant surgeons in the world. A pioneer in multi-organ transplant, Dr. Tzakis has performed more than 2,000 liver transplants and was one of the first surgeons to transplant the intestine.
He won international acclaim in 1994 by performing two transplantations of baboon livers into humans, and he has led the way in successfully transplanting insulin-producing cells from the pancreas and performing intestinal and multi-visceral organ transplantations.
Dr. Tzakis, of the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, FL, part of the Global Cleveland Clinic headquartered in Cleveland, OH, spoke with The National Herald about his new initiative, to transplant a uterus into women desiring to have children, who cannot because they were born without a uterus or had theirs removed. The interview follows:
TNH: How exactly will this new initiative work?
AT: The transplantation of the uterus is the implanting of a new healthy uterus in a woman who cannot have children because she doesn’t have a uterus either because she was born without one or because the one that she had was removed.
TNH: How safe is this procedure is going to be?
AT: Yes. The daughter would take medication to prevent her body’s rejection of the new uterus, and such medicine should be prescribed for two, three, or four years, not over an entire lifetime.
TNH: How many doctors are involved in the process?
AT: This is a very complex transplant. It involves in addition to transplant surgeons, infertility doctors, gynecologists, high-risk obstetricians, neonatologists, and bioethicists, psychiatrists, patient advocates, it is a huge effort. I can’t even tell how many people are involved, but this is a big, wonderful team and everybody looks at the patient from his or her own perspective. We meet with each other and discuss the patient’s progress regularly. It takes a huge clinical and administrative effort to accomplish this.
TNH: How many hours does the transplant take?
AT: Between four and five hours.
TNH: How do you feel being connected to this initiative, as a doctor and a person?
AT: I feel very good about this initiative and there are very simple reasons. I think we all know the desire of women who want to have children but cannot. So, at this moment there are two alternatives, one is adoption and the other one is surrogacy, and these are blessed alternatives for a lot of people, a lot of women, a lot of families have been created like that. But a great many women will not utilize any of these alternatives because of personal, cultural, or religious reasons. We are all very sympathetic to their desire to have a family, and so I fell very well about developing this trial.
TNH: Have you performed any uterus transplants in your Florida clinic?
AT: Not as yet. At the Clinic, which is part of the Global Cleveland Clinic, we do Dr. Tzakis: No, we have not done this transplantation yet. The Clinic in Weston Florida where we do liver, kidney, and heart transplants. The uterus transplants are done in Cleveland, where we have the most advanced specialists
TNH: When do you anticipate starting these transplants?
AT: There are several stages of the transplant, and so we evaluate the candidates to see if they are in a position to accept the transplant psychologically, socially, and ethically. Then, we proceed with the medical evaluation to make sure they are medically fit to undergo the transplant. Then we need to make sure that they have embryo available for implantation in the uterus so there is a stage where they donate eggs and produce embryo, which are frozen, and if they undergo that process successfully, they are candidates for transplant. The pregnancy, then, will be in vitro fertilization, not conventional.
TNH: How much is this procedure going to cost?
AT: The cost at the moment is not known, because the funds used for the trial are all private, not public.