Philadelphia – Researchers at The Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at the children’s hospital in Philadelphia have created a plastic womb that was able to keep a premature lamb alive for four weeks after birth.
The research involved lambs who were six weeks premature. Their development at this point in gestation is similar to a human baby at twenty-two weeks gestation.
When babies are born prematurely, they have to be treated outside of the womb in open environments, even though their bodies are not developed and ready for life in the outside world. The research team in Philadelphia decided to explore how to create a womb-like environment that would help avoid common developmental problems due to premature birth.
Premature births can lead to development issues that last long into life, which include vision and hearing problems. “They have very immature organs,” Dr. Flake told New Scientist. “They’re simply not ready to be born yet.”
The sealed plastic bag is made of polythene and is able to provide all of the nutrition and safety that the lamb would need to continue to grow. Oxygen is delivered through a tube that mimics the umbilical cord and the bag functions like the mother’s placenta.
The bag contained a circulatory system, a closed and secure fluid environment and the ability to use the lamb’s own heart to pump the blood around the bag instead of using another pump outside of the bag.
Doctor Alan Flake told CNN news, “This, in theory, should allow support of premature infants.” The ultimate goal of the project is to be able to “meet the unmet need of extreme prematurity.”
The final goal is to be able to create an environment where premature babies could continue to develop internal organs, such as their lungs, during the time between twenty-three and twenty-eight weeks gestation. Current medical statistics show that if a baby is born at twenty-three weeks, he or she only has a 17% chance of survival. But that could all change soon thanks to this plastic womb.
Although it’s just in the beginning stages and human trials are years away, this plastic womb could lead to huge steps for healthcare and save premature babies’ lives.