Artificial womb could keep babies born prematurely alive in future: scientists

Artificial womb could keep babies born prematurely alive in future: scientists

Artificial womb could keep babies born prematurely alive in future: scientists

Today, premature infants weighing as little as 500 grammes are connected to ventilators and other machines inside incubators.

Initially, this test has been done on prematurely born lambs and they have successfully grown in these artificial wombs.

Although the technology has only been tested on sheep, researchers hope it could become a lifesaver for many premature human babies in just a few years.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

This artificial womb was originally created to sustain lamb fetuses - which previous research indicated are good models for human fetal development - by recreating the uterus of a pregnant animal.

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"It's certainly not our goal to extend the limits of viability", says Flake, adding that his team's goal "is to improve survival for extremely premature infants".

-Then the researchers attached the umbilical cord to a machine that exchanges carbon dioxide in blood with oxygen, like a placenta normally does. In the United States, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality, with over one-third of all infant deaths and one-half of cerebral palsy attributed to prematurity. The device consists of three essential components: a polyethylene film that acts like the womb protecting the infant from the outside environment; an electrolyte solution which is similar to the amniotic fluid in the womb; and a system to circulate blood and supply oxygen. At the start of the test, the fetal lamb test subjects were roughly the same gestational age as a critically premature human fetus.

The lambs remained in the "womb" for up to a month. If they are out of the womb, a breath of air stunts lung development.

Their bodies and organs grew at a normal weight, and they got adorable white downy coats while in the bag.

Previous attempts have been successful in sustaining life for just hours, however the new system designed by researchers was able to support the fetuses for up to 28 days without any damage to their lungs or brain.

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Electronic monitors were used to measure vital signs as well as blood flow and other vital functions of the lambs. One of the surviving lambs now lives a healthy life on a farm in Pennsylvania.

The researchers say that the artificial womb isn't meant to replace the real thing, and can't rescue fetuses younger than about 22 or 23 weeks-they're simply too tiny and undeveloped.

Working with Robert Bartlett, the inventor of the first artificial womb-like device, Mychaliska and his team have been developing their own system for a decade.

This is what inspired a team of experts from CHOP to create an environment that replicates all aspects of normal fetal life to encourage natural growth and development of premature infants. According to a recent estimate, every 1 in 10 babies is a preterm baby and close to 15 million babies are preterm every year.

Speaking about the likelihood of transferring the tech to humans within ten years, Neena Modi, a professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London, told WIRED: "I very much doubt this; a very considerable amount of pre-clinical, followed by painstaking, cautious clinical safety testing would be required before proceeding with more wide scale clinical testing".

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