A group of scientists from Philadelphia have created an artificial womb that could help prematurely born babies
Scientists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have created an “artificial womb” hoping that someday this device will save babies born extremely prematurely. So far the device has only been tested on foetal lambs.
According to Alan Flake, a foetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study, they have been successful in replicating the conditions in the womb in their lamb model. Foetus has been growing normally. It has normal lung and brain maturation. The development has been normal in every way.
Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.
Inside an artificial womb
The device is made of a clear plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. A machine outside the bag is attached to the umbilical cord which acts like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide.
The device is kept inside a dark and warm room. Researchers then play the sounds of the mother’s heart for the lamb foetus and monitor the foetus with ultrasounds.
A 107-day-old lamb foetus, which is as old as a 23- 25-week-old human foetus, lies inside the artificial womb. Previous research has shown that lamb foetuses are good models for human foetal development.
Artificial wombs can change the lives of many people. But, the device also raises ethical issues about whether it would ever be acceptable to test it on humans. This device may blur the line between a foetus and a baby.
Countering the above statement Flake says, ethical concerns should be balanced against the risk of death and severe disabilities babies often suffer when born very prematurely. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A human device would be designed for those born 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Only half of the babies born prematurely survive and, those who do, about 90 percent suffer severe complications, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, paralysis, seizures, blindness and deafness, Flake says.