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A team of scientists created an artificial womb in aid of premature babies. The initial experiment, which was conducted for nearly a month, succeeded in growing a lamb in the womb.
The result gave hope the experiment would be viable for human babies in the near future. The innovation meant more preemies could develop and mature normally, as well as avoid lifelong conditions or death, inside the artificial womb.
Alan Flake of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia led the team of scientists who developed the artificial womb. They used eight fetal lambs in their 105 to 120 days of gestation and kept these in a clear bag that served as the amniotic sac. The bag had an "umbilical cord" attached to a machine that delivered all of the nutrients the fetus needed.
"The whole idea is to support normal development; to re-create everything that the mother does in every way that we can to support normal fetal development and maturation," Flake told NPR. His team detailed their study in the journal Nature Communications.
So far, the experimental lambs are growing normally in the artificial womb. Their lungs, brains and other vital organs, including their wool, are developing and maturing well, according to Flake. In three years' time, the scientists hope to apply the same experiment in humans if this first experiment progresses well.
In the United States, some 30,000 babies are born as preemies or under 26 weeks of gestation, as per CDC. Premature birth is one of the leading causes of infant death and the ones who survive have higher risks of having lifelong developmental conditions like cerebral palsy. Some also develop poor health and various medical conditions, thus requiring regular special needs care.
For now, incubators at the hospitals' Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) help these preemies fight for their life. The babies, however, live outside the womb via intubation, respirator and gas-based ventilator. The scientists hope to improve this condition for the babies.
The medical and science community are keeping tabs on this artificial womb experiment's progress. Watch the study in detail in the video below.