'Plastic bag' womb could help keep premature babies alive

by Noah Mcgee April 27, 2017, 2:04
'Plastic bag' womb could help keep premature babies alive

The successful animal testing suggests the first-of-its-kind incubation might work in the case of extremely premature babies.

The artificial womb environment reported in the journal Nature Communications is the result of almost four years of research and just as many prototypes.

The lambs involved in the study lived inside the device - which uses a container filled with liquid - for about four weeks, breathing amniotic fluid inside of a temperature-controlled environment.

Although human development doesn't quite follow lamb development (our brains are also much less formed than those of lambs at a comparable time of gestation), Alan Flake, the director of the Philadelphia hospital's Children's Institute for Surgical Science, told the Technology Review he's confident that these devices will be available for testing neonatal intensive-care units in as little as three years. They say the device could transform care for extremely premature babies - born at between 23 and 26 weeks of gestation - and significantly improve their chances of survival.

Scientists recently succeeded in creating an "artificial womb" which helped a premature born lamb to survive for at least 24 days.

But that day isn't here yet.

Although the team stresses they probably can't sustain babies any younger than 23 weeks, Flake says this could "establish a new standard of care for this subset of extremely premature infants".

"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist", Dr.

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The good news is when the lambs were removed from the Biobag and placed on a regular ventilator like a premature human baby, their health was almost as good as lambs of the same age that had been delivered via cesarean section.

In recent tests, prematurely born lambs placed inside the artificial womb continued to develop as if they were still inside their mother's uterus.

The umbilical cord is attached via tubes to a machine outside the bag, which removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen to blood passing through it. Once "birthed", the lung function of lambs supported in the team's devices "has essentially caught up to that of a mature infant", Partridge added. There is also an artificial placenta that oxygenates the blood to keep the baby healthy. The artificial womb can be a big step for the future. The lambs showed normal breathing and swallowing, and had normal growth, neurological function and organ maturation. This artificial womb could eventually give them an extra few weeks to develop.

They were kept there for four weeks, after which some were "born", removed from the bags and weaned on bottles. The doctors have been working on the artificial womb for years, starting on their own, with their own funds, and using a variety of surplus and cheap materials.

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".

The team is reportedly in discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and predicts babies could be incubated in the system within three years of the first clinical trial, The Guardian reports.

Dr Flake said there was no technology "even on the horizon" that could replace a mother's womb at the earliest stages of foetal development.

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