June 25, 2017

Scientists create artificial womb that could help save premature babies

28 April 2017, 01:19 | Elizabeth Houston

Scientists create artificial womb that could help save premature babies

In this drawing provided by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia an illustration of a fluid-filled incubation system that mimics a mother’s womb in hopes of one day improving survival of extremely

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

They were kept there for four weeks, after which some were "born", removed from the bags and weaned on bottles.

A few more experiments followed where lambs were allowed to survive and were bottle-fed by the experimenting team.

Turns out, it didn't just survive, it thrived. The authors acknowledge that it's going to take more research into the science and safety of this device before it can be used on human babies.

It's something that wouldn't be out of place in a sci-fi movie - a lamb inside a plastic bag with tubes and fluids helping it grow. Researchers are creating an artificial womb to improve care for extremely premature babies, and animal testing suggests the first-of-its-kind watery incubation so closely mimics mom that it just might work. The average human gestation period is 40 weeks.

So, the mother's womb is still essential for conception and early-stage development.

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.

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The lambs remained in the "womb" for up to a month.

"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".

The new study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, details the testing of a "womb-like device" on fetal lambs, which develop lungs in utero much the same way humans do.

A team of pediatric scientists developed the system that uses a fluid-filled container attached to custom-designed machines that provide physiological support with the aim of supporting infants from 23 weeks to 28 weeks' gestational age where they cross the threshold away from the most severe outcomes of extreme premature birth.

The invention mimics the mother's womb, and could allow these vulnerable infants to continue to develop as if they were still in utero. According to Dr. Alan Flake, the director of the hospital's Center for Fetal Research in the video above, 1-percent of American babies are born critically premature, a number which has increased significantly in the last few decades. An extra-uterine system would be the ideal thing for such cases of premature babies. The team of physicians is already in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and clinical trials are slated to begin in the next 3 to 5 years.

With the Biobag, the baby is able to pump its own blood through its umbilical cord and into a medical device called an oxygenator, which functions like a placenta, sending oxygenated blood back to the baby.

In the study, the premature lambs, equivalent in age to 23to 24 week-old human infants, appeared to develop normally in their bags.

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