BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

Talk about a womb with a view… re­searchers at the Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia in the US have cre­ated a plas­tic bag-like ar­ti­fi­cial womb and suc­cess­fully used it to in­cu­bate pre­ma­ture baby lambs for up to 28 days. That’s a huge improvement on the max­i­mum 60 hours achieved in pre­vi­ous at­tempts to de­velop ar­ti­fi­cial wombs.

Ex­treme pre­ma­tu­rity (where a baby is born less than 26 weeks into a preg­nancy) ac­counts for one-third of in­fant deaths in hu­mans. Cur­rently, pre­ma­ture ba­bies are placed in in­cu­ba­tors, and put on ven­ti­la­tors to help them breathe. But this can lead to lung prob­lems later in life, and the de­vel­op­ment of other or­gans is of­ten im­paired.

In con­trast, the ‘biobag’ sys­tem de­vel­oped in Philadel­phia is de­signed to more closely mimic con­di­tions in­side the mother’s womb. The in­fant’s lungs ‘breathe’ am­ni­otic fluid, just as in a real womb, and their hearts pump blood through an ar­ti­fi­cial um­bil­i­cal cord into an ex­ter­nal oxy­gena­tor. This oxy­gena­tor is a sub­sti­tute for the mother’s pla­centa in

ex­chang­ing oxy­gen and car­bon diox­ide. Nu­tri­ents are sup­plied via the um­bil­i­cal cord, while the bag pro­tects the foe­tus from changes in tem­per­a­ture and light, as well as keep­ing germs at bay.

“[Ex­tremely pre­ma­ture] in­fants have an ur­gent need for a bridge be­tween the mother’s womb and the out­side world,” said re­search lead Dr Alan W. Flake. “If we can de­velop an ex­tra-uter­ine sys­tem to sup­port growth and or­gan mat­u­ra­tion for only a few weeks, we can dra­mat­i­cally im­prove out­comes for ex­tremely pre­ma­ture ba­bies.”

The tiny lambs ap­peared to de­velop nor­mally in­side the ar­ti­fi­cial wombs

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