Thursday, 23 November, 2017

Scientists Create Artificial Womb That Could Help Prematurely Born Babies

Ron Matthews | 29 April, 2017, 17:45

A bag is filled with lab-made amniotic fluid that the fetus inhales and exhales as it normally would in the womb as the heart pumps blood through the umbilical cord into a kind of artificial lung outside the bag.

"If we can support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies", he said. At that age an infant weighs below 600 grams - little more than a pound - and has a 30 to 50% chance of survival.

"This unique womb-like, fluid environment could bridge the critical time from mother's womb to outside world and reduce mortality and disability for extremely premature infants", officials said in a statement on the CHOP website.

Following the trial's success, it is hoped that the development of a scaled-down system for human infants could drastically improve the health outcomes of premature newborns, according to Dr Alan Flake, lead author and Director of the Centre for Fetal Research at the hospital.

The device mimics the womb-like environment and provides the possibility of suspending the baby in it for another few weeks to bring them over the 28-week threshold.

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.

So far the technology has only been tested on premature lambs, not human babies, so you won't find it at any hospitals just yet.

Initially, this test has been done on prematurely born lambs and they have successfully grown in these artificial wombs.

Of course, lambs aren't humans - and their brains develop at a somewhat different pace.

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.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have been working on an artificial womb called the "BioBag", which, admittedly, is a bad name for a potentially fantastic product. "It sounds simple and intuitive ... but strangely enough, other groups have tried this and they've given up", he said. It's now an electrolyte solution; he's working to add other factors to make it more like real amniotic fluid.

The study didn't address long-term development. The oldest lamb raised in the Biobag is now over a year old and appears healthy.

The challenge is now to develop a version of the technology for human babies, which the team believes can be done in three to five years.

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