PREMATURE LAMBS LIVE IN ‘PLASTIC BAG’ WOMBS
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