dglobalnews.com Artificial womb may help to save premature babies
Published: Fri, April 28, 2017
Medical | By Benjamin Edwards

Artificial womb may help to save premature babies

Artificial womb may help to save premature babies

Dr. Marcus Davey, one of the lead authors of the study, and a prominent figure in the area of Australian fetal research declared that the artificial womb developed at Philadelphia's Center for Fetal Research could significantly improve the outcome of premature births.

The eight fetal lambs that were tested in the device seemed to develop as they normally would in womb, some even grew a little wool. But on Tuesday, researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia announced that their "Biobag"-an artificial womb/placenta system-has kept extremely premature lamb fetuses alive for longer and healthier than similar previous technologies".

In hopes of building a better incubator, the team at CHOP created multiple prototype devices, eventually creating a device that features a biobag filled with amniotic fluid and a machine to oxygenate the blood via the umbilical cord.

The study with lambs has shown how human babies could get an extra four weeks in gestation - by way of a sealed sterile plastic bag filled with amniotic fluid, connected to a machine that functions like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood via the umbilical cord, whilst removing carbon dioxide.

It's not a sci-fi movie - a premature lamb fitted with tubes and fluids is growing inside a plastic bag.

In the not-so-distant future, researchers believe that this technology when developed holds great promise for premature human babies born at or before 25 weeks. Human versions of this artificial wombs should become available within the next two years, the Philadelphia team declared.

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Ultimately, an infant is considered premature when they are born before 37 weeks of development.

The transition period that exists between the mother's womb and the outside world requires comprehensive planning and intensive care.

Lambs were used due to their close genetic proximity to humans.

"If our system is as successful as we think it can be, ultimately the majority of pregnancies predicted at-risk for extreme prematurity would be delivered onto a system that keeps them immersed, rather than being delivered onto a ventilator", he said. After 28 days, their lungs had matured and they were then released in normal environment so that they could breathe, which happened as expected. It is about the development of new ways of treating extremely premature babies. The team of physicians is already in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and clinical trials are slated to begin in the next 3 to 5 years. Most of the lambs were euthanized for further study that found normal organ development for their gestational age.

Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University, doesn't like the idea of using the artificial wombs on humans at all.

He acknowledged that parents might question the approach, but notes that the premies always could be whisked into standard care if they fared poorly in the new system.

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