An infant is considered premature when they are born before 37 weeks of development. Globally, millions of babies are born prematurely each year. This exposes them to a host of chronic health conditions, as their lungs and brains are still in very early stages of development.
While current therapies incubate preterm children, Researchers from Philadelphia have shown it’s possible to nurture and protect lambs in late stages of gestation inside an artificial womb; a technology which could become a lifesaver for many premature human babies in just a few years.
Working of Artificial Womb
The researchers took eight lambs between 105 to 120 days gestation (the physiological equivalent of 23 to 24 weeks in humans) and placed them inside the artificial womb.
The womb itself, a sealed and sterile bag, is filled with an electrolyte solution which acts like amniotic fluid in the uterus. The lamb’s own heart pumps the blood through the umbilical cord into a gas exchange machine outside the bag.
This diagram below gives you some idea of how it works.
You can see more about the research in the video below:
Whats Next ?
And at least on the lambs in this study, the artificial womb worked – after just four weeks the lambs’ brains and lungs had matured. They had also grown wool and could wiggle, open their eyes, and swallow.
Lamb umbilical vessels may not function the same way as human babies do – and lambs are also significantly larger than foetuses at that stage of development.
Nevertheless, if all goes well, the researchers hope to test the device on premature humans within three to five years.
Source: Nature Communications.