This Artificial Womb Just Successfully Grew a Sheep, Humans Could Be Next

CHOP Researchers Design Fluid-Filled Environment to Bridge Critical Time from Mother’s Womb to Outside World

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This Artificial Womb Just Successfully Grew a Sheep, Humans Could Be Next
(b) Representative lamb cannulated at 107 days of gestation and on day 4 of support. (c) The same lamb on day 28 of support illustrating somatic growth and maturation. Via: Nature Communications

It’s something like a sci-fi movie- a lamb growing inside a plastic bag. But researchers made it a reality. Scientists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have created an artificial womb to sustain the life of premature babies. They have shown that it is possible to nurture and protect lambs in late stages of gestation inside an artificial womb.

According to researchers, the technology could become a lifesaver for many premature human babies in just a few years.

The artificial womb looks like oversized plastic bags with tubes and fluids. It is filled with an electrolyte solution which acts like amniotic fluid in the uterus.

Alan Flake, senior researcher for the study said, “These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world.”

“If we can develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies.”

UA/UV Biobag system design:

This Artificial Womb Just Successfully Grew a Sheep, Humans Could Be Next
(a) Circuit and system components consisting of a pumpless, low-resistance oxygenator circuit, a closed fluid environment with continuous fluid exchange and an umbilical vascular interface.
Via: Nature Communications
This Artificial Womb Just Successfully Grew a Sheep, Humans Could Be Next
(b) Representative lamb cannulated at 107 days of gestation and on day 4 of support. (c) The same lamb on day 28 of support illustrating somatic growth and maturation.
Via: Nature Communications

Scientists took eight lambs between 105 to 120 days gestation and placed them inside the artificial womb. The lambs were placed in the artificial wombs after being removed via caesarean section. They then sealed the lambs in the womb. After that, they linked to a gas exchanger through the umbilical cord, which gave their blood oxygen and nutrients as if they were still in utero.

Scientists noted, “Respiratory failure represents the most common and challenging problem. A gas exchange in critically preterm neonates is impaired by the structural and functional immaturity of the lungs.”

The lambs were in a special amniotic fluid that had chemicals designed to promote growth. During the growth, the lambs developed as their brain, lungs, and other vital organs grew. Through the umbilical cord into a gas that exchange machine outside the bag, the lab’s heart pumps.

In the lab, the artificial womb just proved successful in animal testing for the first time. After four weeks, the lambs’ brains and lungs had matured.

Flake said, “it’s complete science fiction to think that you can take an embryo and get it through the early developmental process and put it on our machine without the mother being the critical element there.”

“The Biobags serve as crucial bridges between the womb and the world. If we can support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies.”

The technology provides a safety net to give a premature child every chance it can have of survival.

He said, “I’ve still blown away, whenever I’m down looking at our lambs. I think it’s just an amazing thing to sit there and watch the fetus on this support acting like it normally acts in the womb… It’s a really awe-inspiring endeavor to be able to continue normal gestation outside of the mom.”