Scientists Find Success in Growing Premature Lambs in Artificial Wombs

Scientists Find Success in Growing Premature Lambs in Artificial Wombs

The artificial womb is made up of a clear plastic bag that is filled with synthetic amniotic fluid.

"People pursued it for about 60 years experimentally but we were able to do what others haven't been able to do and some of that is related to technology", said the fetal surgeon, who is director of the Center for Fetal Research at the Philadelphia hospital.

Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.

The researchers created a fluid-filled transparent container to simulate how foetuses float in amniotic fluid inside the mother's uterus, and attached it to a mechanical placenta that keeps blood oxygenated.

Scientists in the United States have developed a fluid-filled womb-like bag known as an extra-uterine support device that could transform care for extremely premature babies, significantly improving chances of survival.

Electronic monitors measure vital signs, blood flow and other crucial functions.

When asked why lambs instead of other animals, the scientists said that previous research showed that they are good models for human fetuses. The researchers say the system wouldn't change the limits of when a fetus can survive.

Flake and team hope the technology could one day be used to treat tiny, premature human babies and help them to grow up healthy.

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The findings were published April 25 in the journal Nature, in which researchers proved that the device was worked on at least eight animals. Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) want to give these babies a fighting chance. Lambs developed inside them for up to 28 days.

The invention mimics the mother's womb, and could allow these vulnerable infants to continue to develop as if they were still in utero.

The team will next work on refining the system and prepare it for human infant use.

"The challenging age we're trying to offset is that 23-week, 24-week baby who is faced with such a challenge of adapting to life outside of the uterus on dry land, breathing air, when they're not supposed to be there yet", Dr. Emily Partridge from CHOP said.

"Fetal lungs are created to function in fluid, and we simulate that environment here, allowing the lungs and other organs to develop, while supplying nutrients and growth factors", Marcus Davey, Ph.D., a fetal physiologist who designed and redesigned the system's inflow and outflow apparatus, said in a statement.

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.

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.

This scheme could allow for the prevention of any severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants.

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