Artificial womb could help very premature infants live without disabilities

A U.S. military vehicle which is a part of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system arrives in Seongju
Artificial womb could help very premature infants live without disabilities
Author

27 April, 2017

Alan Flake, fetal surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, and his colleagues published their research in Nature Communications. The womb-like device uses a temperature-controlled sac filled with synthetic amniotic fluid.

"It is created to continue what naturally occurs in the womb", said Alan Flake, a foetal surgeon at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and senior author of a study in Nature Communications that details the breakthrough. They say the device could transform care for extremely premature babies - born at between 23 and 26 weeks of gestation - and significantly improve their chances of survival.

The system works to mimic the environment of a natural womb and the team hopes to one day adapt the technology for use on premature babies.

But that day isn't here yet. In the womb, their mothers delivered oxygen via blood through their umbilical cords.

The scientist clarified the new invention is not meant to extend viability outside of the womb further back than 23 weeks, but to support the infant from 23 weeks to 28 weeks of gestational age, when the effects of prematurity become minimal.

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.

Video Scientists in Philadelphia have created a plastic womb that has successfully incubated eight premature lambs - and the doctors behind the project say they will be ready for human trials within three years.

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"This, in theory, should allow support of premature infants for a period of weeks, and thereby reduce dramatically their mortality and morbidity rates and improve their outcomes in both the short and long terms", the researcher detailed.

The researchers then attached the lambs' umbilical cords to a machine that exchanges carbon dioxide in blood with oxygen, the process that placenta normally does. Besides, its optimum body weight signaled that the lamb was perfectly healthy and easily survived four weeks inside the plastic chamber.

Any baby born prior to the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature. It is about the development of new ways of treating extremely premature babies. Those that do survive are at a 90% risk of morbidity and severe illnesses such as lung disease, cerebral palsy and complications caused by underdeveloped organs.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) announced this week that years of pediatric research have resulted in the successful growth of baby sheep in an artificial womb.

Inside the artificial womb, the lambs continued to grow.

They were kept there for four weeks, after which some were "born", removed from the bags and weaned on bottles. 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.

They would be given a drug to prevent them from breathing while being transported from their mother to the device, which "allows the fetus to swallow and breath amniotic fluid, like it's supposed to during development", Flake said.


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