New Womb-Like Device Aims to Reduce Infant Mortality

Researchers design a functioning artificial womb

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are creating an artificial womb to help extremely premature babies.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The foetus - breathing liquid, as it would in the womb - lies in a clear-plastic sack filled with a synthetic amniotic fluid.

"These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother's womb and the outside world", Alan Flake, Specialist Surgeon, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"If we can support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies", Flake said.

Some lambs who survived outside of the artificial womb still appear healthy up to a year and a half later, including one animal that's retired to a farm in Pennsylvania, Dr Davey told Fairfax Media.

But that day isn't here yet.

One in 10 babies born in the USA are considered premature (younger than 37 weeks gestational age). The sealed plastic bags are connected to an oxygenator, which will mainly compensate for the missing umbilical cord for channeling a baby to its mother.

The researchers want the womb to one day be used in neonatal intensive care units as an alternative to ventilation for babies born at 23 weeks gestation onwards. Extremely premature infants who survive often have chronic lung infections and other crippling health problems.

This would be a tremendous achievement, he added, considering that - as the authors wrote in their paper's abstract - "fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to four weeks". At 28 weeks they cross the threshold away from the most severe outcomes, researchers said. Researchers were able to keep the lambs thriving and developing up to 4 weeks.

It all works together so that blood flows to and from the fetus, through a gas-exchange interface similar to what would occur across a placenta, while the fetus remains in a stable fluid environment.

The baby lamb showed remarkable improvement in growth as its body was soon covered with adorable white fur.

Moreover, according to sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman, from the City University of NY, the technological transformation of pregnancy could lead to a denied "human connection" among babies being "raised in a machine". Inside of the womb, they placed a premature lamb fetus.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have been working on an artificial womb called the "BioBag", which, admittedly, is a awful name for a potentially wonderful product. Parents would also be able to watch their babies mature through an imaging system. The researcher and his team noted that one of the most common causes of death is related to the newborn's lung being insufficiently developed.

"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". They have been kept in these wombs for an average of 4 weeks. It's still in the animal testing phase, but it holds tremendous promise.

Nevertheless, if all goes well, the researchers hope to test the device on premature humans within three to five years.

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