Hope for preemies as artificial womb helps tiny lambs grow

It's hoped this will prevent lung damage from the ventilators now used for premature births. The oldest lamb raised in the Biobag is now over a year old and appears healthy.

"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist", said study leader Alan W Flake, from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in the US.

They would be given a drug to prevent them from breathing while being transported from their mother to the device, which "allows the fetus to swallow and breath amniotic fluid, like it's supposed to during development", Flake said.

In the hopes of someday helping babies born prematurely, a team of scientists from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia created a device that simulates the conditions inside the uterus. Human versions of this artificial wombs should become available within the next two years, the Philadelphia team declared.

At the moment, Davey pointed out that more than 50 percent of infants born at 24 weeks die as a result of complications. Lambs are usually born after five months.

Though it could take another decade for the device to take a shape of reality, experts hope to procure licence for the device that could be used to support highly premature babies. Experts created amniotic fluid in their lab made it flow in and out of the bag.

Instead, the baby's heart pumps blood via the umbilical cord into the system's low-resistance external oxygenator that substitutes for the mother's placenta in exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The artificial environment would be most beneficial for babies born at 23 to 28 weeks, to help "bridge the rough patch when they're really struggling" to when they can thrive on their own, according to Emily Patridge, MD, researcher at CHOP. "This could establish a new standard of care for this subset of extremely premature infants".


Published in the scientific journal, Nature Communications, by Alan Flake and his colleagues, the Biobag looks more like a dystopian nightmare than a lifesaving piece of technology. The tests took place on fetal lambs which have lungs that resemble those of human beings. Most of the lambs were euthanized for further study that found normal organ development for their gestational age.

"The first health challenges the very preterm babies face is actually surviving", said Kevin Dysart, a neonatologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

How Does The New Artificial Womb Work?

The authors also stated that the technology could be extended to other therapeutic applications such as treatment of fetal growth retardation related to placental insufficiency. In both systems, infants breathe a simulated amniotic fluid, but in MI, they're not immersed in a bag of fluid.

- The lamb's heart circulates the blood, without the need for any other pump.

"This is still pre-clinical or experimental data, but the research group in Philadelphia have managed to overcome numerous limitations others have had in supporting a baby or foetus with womb-like conditions", he said. "It would be a very Gattaca-like world", says Davis, referring to the 1997 science-fiction film.

"The whole point of the artificial placenta is to re-create the uterine environment for a period of time and allow the organs to develop to a point where the infant can tolerate postnatal life", he says.


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