Preemie Lambs Survive In Artificial Plastic Womb

The premature lambs were delivered by C-section and immediately placed into a temperature-controlled bag filled with a substitute for amniotic fluid that they swallow and take into their lungs.

"If we can support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies", Flake said.

The 8 premature lambs used in the study were the equivalent age of a 23-24-week old human baby, in which case the chances of survival are slim.

Over the years we've got better at caring for those infants, and survival rates have risen, but those who survive are still at risk of infections, lung damage and lasting disabilities.

"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist", study leader and director of the hospital's Center for Fetal Research Dr Alan Flake says. Human testing is still several years away, but the recent incubation of the lambs is a good sign of the device's possible success on human infants.

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"[The womb] appears to do what others haven't been able to do, which is to keep the animal alive for a long period of time and show that it's growing normally", he said. The fetuses were connected to a machine that oxygenated their blood while allowing their lungs to remain fluid-filled (since they weren't strong enough at that point to breathe on their own).

The system will be refined further, partly to downsize it for infants which are around one-third the size of the lambs used in the study. Lambs raised using the artificial wombs were normal in every way scientists could measure. It's now an electrolyte solution; he's working to add other factors to make it more like real amniotic fluid.

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. And instead of a placenta, the fetus' umbilical cord is hooked up to a machine that pumps oxygen.

Colin Duncan, a professor of reproductive medicine and science at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the research, told VICE News that the study was a "really attractive concept and this study is a very important step forward".

"If you can just use this device as a bridge for the fetus then you can have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of extremely premature infants".

  • Myrtle Hill