Beginnings Reporting on science and intelligent design

Uterine transplants on demand?

Science | Advances in the procedure could make it more accessible
by Julie Borg
Posted 1/17/19, 01:15 pm

A new method for performing uterine transplants could make pregnancy possible for more women but also raises ethical concerns. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden just announced the first pregnancy in a woman who received a donor uterus harvested through robot-assisted surgery.

Six women have undergone robot-assisted uterine transplants, but only one has become pregnant so far, the researchers said. During the multi-hour surgeries, doctors insert robotic arms in the donor’s abdomen through five incisions just 1 centimeter long each. Using joystick-like controls, a surgeon can move the instruments by a millimeter at a time, minimizing disturbance to surrounding tissue and organs. The surgeon removes the uterus through one of the incisions and then immediately transplants it into the recipient through traditional open surgery.

One in 500 women suffer uterine abnormalities that make pregnancy impossible unless they undergo a uterine transplant. The first successful childbirth following a transplant from a living donor occurred in Sweden in 2013. Since then, the procedure has resulted in the birth of 13 babies—eight in Sweden, two in the United States, and one each in Brazil, Serbia, and India. Robotic organ retrieval could make uterus transplants more accessible and potentially more successful because they reduce the recovery time and risks for living donors.

“The donor loses less blood, the hospital stay is shorter, and the patient feels better after surgery,” Mats Brännström, a Gothenburg professor of obstetrics and gynecology and a leading researcher in the field, said in a statement. Deceased-donor transplants could offer more readily available organs, but they also require surgeries to be scheduled quickly, before doctors can thoroughly assess the organ’s suitability.

Even with live donors and robotic organ harvesting, uterine transplants involve a multitude of health risks for the donor, the recipient, and the baby, such as organ rejection, side effects of immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection, miscarriage, and another surgery later to remove the uterus. The transplants also require in vitro fertilization to achieve a pregnancy, which often involves the creation and eventual destruction of surplus embryos.

Some ethicists fear that women could be exploited for their uteruses, Paige Cunningham, executive director of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, noted in a blog post. Ethicists also question whether a woman’s desire to give birth to a child justifies the medical risks, concerns about exploitation, and the huge expense for a procedure that is not a life-saving measure.

“We must acknowledge that parenthood is a divine gift, not something we are owed,” Cunningham said.

iStock/Wojciech Kozielczyk iStock/Wojciech Kozielczyk

Overestimating food allergies

Your self-diagnosed food allergy may not really be an allergy, according to a study of 40,000 adults, published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 26 million adults, or 10 percent of adults in the United States, suffer from an actual food allergy, but nearly twice as many believe they have an allergy even though their symptoms suggest they do not. Often these people describe conditions that suggest a less severe food intolerance or other food-related difficulty, Ruchi Gupta, the lead researcher, said in a statement.

The researchers also discovered that only half of adults with symptoms compatible with a food allergy had a diagnosis from a physician. Fewer than 25 percent had a current prescription for epinephrine, a medication used in emergencies to treat serious allergic reactions, which can prove fatal.

Gupta emphasized the importance of an accurate diagnosis for people who think they have a food allergy. Otherwise, people may unnecessarily avoid certain foods, impairing their quality of life. And for those who truly suffer from an allergy, knowing how to treat it is vital.

“It is important to see a physician for appropriate testing and diagnosis before completely eliminating foods from the diet. If food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine,” he said.

According to the study, shellfish is the most prevalent food allergy among adults in the United States, followed by allergies to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fin fish, eggs, wheat, soy, and sesame. —J.B.

Wikimedia Commons/NASA/MIT/TESS Wikimedia Commons/NASA/MIT/TESS An infographic of HD 21749b

NASA discovers new planet

The NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered a dense, probably gaseous planet three times the size of Earth—but with 23 times more mass—orbiting a nearby star. It is the third small planet TESS has discovered outside the solar system in the three months since it launched in April 2018, scientists announced at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle last week.

The new planet, HD 21749b, takes about 36 days to orbit its bright dwarf star about 53 light years away in the Reticulum constellation. The other two planets identified by TESS have much shorter revolutions. Pi Mensae b, a super-Earth, takes only 6.3 days to zip around its star, and the rocky planet LHS 3844b orbits in just 11 hours. A super-Earth is a planet outside our solar system with a mass higher than Earth’s but lower than ice giants like Uranus and Neptune.

The newly discovered planet orbits close to its star, which is nearly as bright as our sun. But astronomers estimate the surface temperature of the planet is likely a relatively cool 300 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright,” lead researcher Diana Dragomir said in a statement.

The discovery excites astronomers, who know far more about the atmospheres of hot planets than those of elusive smaller, cooler ones.

The TESS planet-hunting mission will survey the entire sky over the next two years. The satellite will observe the sky over the Southern Hemisphere the first year and then swivel around to scan from the Northern Hemisphere. —J.B.

Associated Press/China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency Associated Press/China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency The lunar lander of the Chang’e-4 probe

The Chinese lunar potato farm

Thanks to China’s Chang’e-4 mission to the far side of the moon, there is now life on Earth’s lunar satellite.

China became the first country to land a craft on the far side of the moon on Jan. 2. The lander contains a receptacle with silkworm eggs, dirt, nutrients, and seeds of potatoes and rock cress (a plant related to mustard and cabbage). Scientists believe the plants will supply oxygen for the silkworms and the silkworms’ waste will provide the carbon and nutrients the plants need. Sunlight will enter the container through a tube, and small cameras will photograph any growth and beam the data back to Earth.

The scientists included potato seeds as a possible major food source for future space travelers, Liu Hanlong, chief director of the experiment, told Live Science. “Our experiment might help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the moon,” he said. J.B.

Associated Press/Photo by Alonzo Adams (file) Associated Press/Photo by Alonzo Adams (file) A tornado moves past homes in Moore, Okla., in May 2013

A new theory on tornadoes

Scientists recently gathered new data from four tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas that turn what they thought they knew about twisters upside down.

Meteorologists have long thought tornadoes develop high in the clouds before touching down. But the new study suggests just the opposite: The rotating storms form near the ground first and then reach into the sky, Science Magazine reported.

The scientists compared radar measurements of wind speed with hundreds of videos and photographs storm chasers took of El Reno, a record-breaking, 2½-mile-wide tornado. They discovered the storm’s funnel was already twisting on the ground several minutes before radar recorded any rotation higher up. The researchers also found the same pattern in the other three tornados.

The findings suggest current tornado warnings, based on wind speeds high in the clouds, may come too late, when dangerous winds could already be twisting below. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She reports on science and intelligent design for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.

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  • MTJanet
    Posted: Fri, 01/18/2019 10:49 pm

    I have far graver concerns about uterine transplants, and that is the transgender "woman" who will request it.  There is no stopping the deviant mind from demanding that this is the obvious conclusion to becoming fully "woman".