Researchers create 'artificial womb' for premature babies

Alan Flake, lead author of the study and fetal surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said that they are trying to extend the process to a normal gestation, as he considers it as a temporary bridge between the maternal womb and the outside world.

The details about this artificial womb are described in a paper titled: "An extra-uterine physiologic support system for the extreme premature lamb" in the journal Nature Communications.

Scientists in the U.S. have developed a new type of single-use "artificial womb" that allows premature lambs to develop for up to four weeks. It's filled with amniotic fluid, and connected to a flow of oxygenated blood, just like the umbilical cord would ordinarily provide.

The artificial womb is made up of a sterile bag that is filled with an electrolyte solution, which functions as amniotic fluid found in the protective walls of the uterus to develop them for more four weeks. Doctors are also interested in adding some subtleties like audio recordings that simulate sounds a fetus would normally hear in the womb, like the mother's heartbeat. Based on the results, which have been called "heroic and monumental" by other physicians, Children's Hospital researchers say that a version of the Biobag may be available to try on human preemies within three years. Complications along the way included issues with sepsis, lambs not surviving delivery and poor oxygenation.

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This study wasn't created to replace a mother's natural womb, but the invention could one day help keep premature infants off ventilators and out of incubators when they are born. By the time the lambs were taken out of the bags, their lung function had "essentially caught up to that of a mature infant", Emily Partridge, a research fellow at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and co-author of the paper, told MIT Technology Review. There were five premature lambs that were tested on and all of them managed to grow perfectly healthy.

Can It Be Used On Humans?

Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University, doesn't like the idea of using the artificial wombs on humans at all.

Around 30,000 babies are born prematurely in the U.S. each year and many suffer for the rest of their lives as a result.

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"With that we would have normal physiologic development and avoid essentially all the major risks of prematurity - and that would translate into a huge impact on pediatric health". It is about the development of new ways of treating extremely premature babies.

Scientists predict that human testing is at least three years away, but the technology will face its own problems.

The system also does not require tubing be placed in the placenta and this minimizes umbilical spasms that can take place when the baby is born, Flake said.

One of the invention's key features that the premature lambs brought to term with this machine didn't breathe in air.

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"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist".


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