Surrogacy a route to parenthood for women with rare disorder affecting the placenta

Surrogacy could be a way for women with a rare placental disorder to become parents, according to new UCL research.

Chronic histiocytic intervillositis (CHI) affects around 1 in 600 women and is strongly linked to recurrent miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal growth restriction and preterm birth. It is thought to be caused by an over-active maternal immune system that ‘rejects’ the placenta leading to pregnancy loss. Treatment to suppress maternal immunity can improve live birth rates – but for some women the risk of recurrence is high, despite treatment.

In a study at the UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health, Dr Emily Cornish from the maternal medicine research group led by Professor David Williams recruited 17 women with CHI. Between them, the women had already carried 54 pregnancies, leading to just 7 surviving children.

The women underwent IVF followed by embryo transfer into a surrogate mother. This led to 17 successful surrogate conceptions, of which 15 ended in term of near-term live birth. None of the surrogate mothers received immunosuppression.

Professor Williams said: “We found that pregnancy outcomes were normalised when a surrogate mother carried the embryo of a couple affected by CHI.

“While surrogacy is not always possible or acceptable, it should be considered an alternative route to parenthood for these women.

“The study also adds weight to the idea that CHI is driven by an abnormal maternal immune response against the placenta – because changing the maternal ‘host’ appeared to be highly effective in preventing CHI.” 

The study was published in a Research Letter to the British Journal of Gynaecology.