LISTEN TO TLR’S LATEST PODCAST:
By Andrew Follett
Doctors could use “artificial wombs” to save premature babies, according to new research published by scientists with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The study, published Tuesday, successfully kept unborn lambs alive in an artificial womb with nutrient-rich liquids. Lambs raised using the artificial wombs were normal in every way scientists could measure. Baby lambs developed to the age equivalent of 23-week-old human babies.
Scientists say the technology can be used to keep more premature babies alive. Scientists plan to begin trials on human babies within three to five years.
“This system is potentially far superior to what hospitals can currently do for a 23-week-old baby born at the cusp of viability,” Dr. Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study, said in a press statement.
“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,” Flake said.
Babies born at 23 weeks have a 15 percent chance of survival, according to pregnancy research charity Tommy’s. Infants born later born at 24 weeks have a 55 percent chance of survival, and babies born at 25 weeks have an 80 per cent chance of survival. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.
Scientists behind the artificial womb admit the device raises ethical issues, but say these must be balanced against the risk of death and severe disabilities that often afflict premature babies.
The researchers stressed there is no possibility of using the system to replace a mother’s womb at earlier stages of development.