Philadelphia Researchers Developed a Plastic Bag-Like Artificial Womb

A newly-tested artificial womb could change the way doctors care for babies born prematurely, according to new research. As outlined in a preclinical study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have made great strides in creating an artificial womb for critically preterm babies that could allow them to continue to develop naturally outside of their mothers' uteruses. It is stated that babies weighing even as little as a single pound can be linked to these incubators.

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

The researchers stress the system can not be used for extremely premature babies born before 23 weeks as the the physical size and physiology of the foetus would present unacceptably high risks.

If the Food and Drug Administration trials go ahead it could be another three to five years before the devices - assuming they are proven safe and effective for newborns - are in use, Flake said.

The plastic-bag like device, known as a "biobag", aims to replicate conditions in the womb and has already been successfully tested on lambs. They are now using the bag on human-sized lambs and tracking the progress of those that survived after being taken off the ventilator, "I think it's realistic to think about three years for first-in-human trials", Flake said.

The device could also help scientists learn more about normal fetal development, says Thomas Shaffer a professor of physiology and pediatrics at Temple University. "This, in theory, could allow support of a premature infant for a period of weeks and thereby reduce, dramatically, its mortality and morbidity, and improve outcomes both short- and long-term". They appear more like oversized plastic bags with tubes and fluids rather than the Huxleyan tube babies of science fiction. "It continuously exchanges amniotic fluid ... in the same way that amniotic fluid is exchanged in the uterus", he said during a press briefing.

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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. If they are out of the womb, a breath of air stunts lung development.

Previous attempts have been successful in sustaining life for just hours, however the new system designed by researchers was able to support the fetuses for up to 28 days without any damage to their lungs or brain. Electronic monitors outside the "biobag" measure vital signs, blood flow and other critical functions. One of the surviving lambs now lives a healthy life on a farm in Pennsylvania.

The study didn't address long-term development.

An artificial womb has been invented that researchers say can support the growth of premature lambs for a month, as if they had still been growing inside their mother. The lambs showed normal breathing and swallowing, opened their eyes, grew wool, became more active, and had normal growth, neurological function and organ maturation.

The story Researchers flawless an artificial womb that works as well as ewe do first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald. And while he said further adaptation of the device is needed before it can begin human testing, he envisioned parents being able to see the baby and even piping in the sound of mom's heartbeat.

As an obvious fact that this artificial womb hasn't been tried on premature human babies yet, and further trials on animals can only reveal the viability of this process in the long run.

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