If Flake and his team can continue to develop their design, taking into account factors such as managing the right amount of blood flow, how to make sure there is no risk of infection and that waste is properly removed, they could hold the key to reducing infant mortality.
Humans have recently unlocked a new cure to help premature babies now enduring pain beyond our imagination (natural birth).
“Rather than transitioning to post-natal life in terms of breathing respiratory gases, we feel the best way to treat these infants, or we treat them as fetuses, is to return them to a womb-like environment”.
The discovery could have huge implications for those human babies born extremely premature, at between 23 and 28 weeks, a CHOP press release explains.
About 30,000 babies are born “extremely premature” in the USA each year – that is, before 26 weeks of pregnancy, the researchers said. However, those that survive this type of birth have a 90 percent risk of morbidity, including chronic lung disease or other complications of organ immaturity. Lambs are usually born after five months. The environment of the container is filled with a fluid that mimics the amniotic fluid found in a mother’s uterus.
The team says that the process does not aim to replace mothers but only to find more feasible ways for life support for babies who are born too early.
Babies born prematurely – at 23 weeks – have a roughly one in three chance of surviving in the United Kingdom at present, although life threatening complications are common.
They opened their eyes, grew a woolly coat and appeared comfortable living in their polyethylene homes.
As soon as they matured enough for their lungs and other systems to be sufficiently strong, the lambs were “delivered” from their bags and put on ventilators, where they showed normal lung function.
“These are some very promising and impressive results”, says George Mychaliska, a paediatric and fetal surgeon at the University of Michigan’s Extracorporeal Circulation Research Laboratory.
Flake stressed that the womb-like system is not meant to support premies any younger than today’s limits of viability – not what he calls the more “sensationalistic” idea of artificially growing embryos.
-The lamb’s heart circulates the blood, without the need for any other pump. Before that can happen, more animal testing and modifications will need to take place.
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. “At that point, in the interest in learning everything we could, they were humanely euthanized and underwent analysis of brain and other organ development”.
However, all of this is about to change as a team of scientists from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have created history by developing a unique womb-like device that could potentially change the face of neo-natal care in the world. After 28 weeks, the baby passes a threshold that should ensure healthy development.
The artificial womb managed to keep two lambs alive for two weeks. The device acts as an artificial womb using a “biobag” to mimic the natural uterus that allows a fetus to develop. A human device would be designed for those born 23 or 24 weeks in to a pregnancy. A similar device might be ready for use in premature human babies in three to five years if additional animal tests pan out, study coauthor Alan Flake estimates.
Header Image: In the US, about 30,000 babies are born younger than 26 weeks old every year.