Here’s what we know: Researchers have created an artificial womb that could potentially allow extremely premature born babies to continue growing and developing. They have been testing the new breakthrough with preemie lambs.
Currently, babies that are born too early, weighing as little as a pound, are hooked up to machines that assist with their breathing.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is aiming for a gentler solution, to give the tiniest preemies a few more weeks cocooned in a womb-like environment — treating them more like fetuses than newborns in hopes of giving them a better chance of healthy survival.
The researchers created a fluid-filled transparent container to simulate how fetuses float in amniotic fluid inside mom’s uterus, and attached it to a mechanical placenta that keeps blood oxygenated.
During their research, lambs which are equivalent in development to a preemie baby have been developing as normal in the new artificial womb.
Dr. Emily Partridge stated, “We start with a tiny fetus that is pretty inert and spends most of its time sleeping. Over four weeks we see that fetus open its eyes, grow wool, breathe, swim,” she continued, “It’s hard to describe actually how uniquely awe-inspiring it is to see.”
How the “Biobag” system works:
—The premature lambs were delivered by C-section and immediately placed into a temperature-controlled bag filled with a substitute for amniotic fluid that they swallow and take into their lungs.
“We make gallons of this stuff a day,” said fetal physiologist Marcus Davey. It’s currently an electrolyte solution; he’s working to add other factors to make it more like real amniotic fluid.
—Then the researchers attached the umbilical cord to a machine that exchanges carbon dioxide in blood with oxygen, like a placenta normally does.
—The lamb’s heart circulates the blood, without the need for any other pump.
The researchers tested five lambs whose biological age was equivalent to 23-week human preemies, and three more a bit older. All appeared to grow normally, with blood pressure and other key health measures stable and few complications during the weeks they were inside the womb-like device.
Testing on humans is still three to five years away. However, this is a remarkable breakthrough!
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