Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have created the first ever artificial womb in hopes of helping extremely premature babies get extra time for organs and bodily systems to fully develop.
Infants born at 22 to 23 weeks gestation is reportedly a leading cause of infant mortality, with many who survive experiencing major health challenges and cognitive deficits.
In pursuit of a medical solution to extend the gestational time and increase survival chances of those born prematurely, researchers set out to create an artificial womb that mimics the uterus, allowing premature fetuses to grow normally inside the womb for an additional 3-4 weeks.
The artificial womb, called the Biobag, is a fluid-filled sac that simulates how fetuses float in the amniotic fluid inside their mother’s uterus. The Biobag is attached to a mechanical placenta that feeds oxygenated blood and electrolyte-rich fluids via the “umbilical cord” to the fetus.
Medical researchers have begun testing the revolutionary device on sheep fetuses because of their similarity to humans.
During the experiments, sheep fetuses were delivered via cesarean section at the biological equivalent of 22- to 24-weeks for human fetuses.
Once delivered, the lambs were then submerged in the Biobag and closely monitored for approximately four weeks. In that time, the lamb fetuses were able to open their eyes, grow wool, breathe, move their limbs, and appeared to grow normally. Upon further examination, their organs were found to be comparable to lambs of that older gestational age when they were removed from the Biobag.
While testing on humans remains several years away, researchers are already forging ahead with the Food and Drug Administration.
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