First Artificial Womb

Scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have successfully kept premature lambs alive for weeks using their own artificial womb that resembles a plastic bag. Not only did the lambs survive, they also grew and matured, mirroring the growth they would have gone through had they been in a natural lamb womb.

How does this work? 

The artificial bag, made of polyethylene, provides everything the lamb fetus requires. The plastic bag imitates amniotic fluid, a mixture of warm water and added salts, which is inhaled by the fetus. The blue arrows represent gallons of this mixture that are constantly pumped through the bag to ensure a fresh supply. The other essential aspect required by the lamb is the oxygen and nutrients it gets from its mother via the placenta. In the artificial womb, the special machine (marked “gas exchange machine” on the diagram) is connected to the lamb’s umbilical cord, and the lamb’s heart pumps old, used blood to the machine to be replenished before the blood flows back through the tubes to the lamb. In the study conducted by researchers, the premature lambs developed normally in the bags, reaching all the milestones-the opening of eyes and growth of a wool coat. After the lambs had matured enough and their lungs were developed, they were released to breathe air.

What does this mean for humanity?

Currently, babies born prematurely at 23 weeks of gestation, similar to the age of the lamb fetus, are placed in incubators and ventilators so they can breathe, but their lungs do not develop properly in this way. The chance of survival is close to 0% at less than 23 weeks, 15% at 23 weeks, 55% at 24 weeks, and 80% at 25 weeks. The bio bag will increase all chances of survival for premature babies, providing a new way to support those who are born too early, but not to replace the role of mothers entirely. Though this treatment is promising, human trials are still a few years away and many more problems may arise in the future.

What are the problems?

Researches say that there is significant risk of infection albeit the sterile and sealed bag. Moreover, human babies are significantly more complex than lamb fetuses; the precise combination of essential nutrients and hormones is difficult to obtain and may require several more years of research and clinical trials to achieve.

This also raises a few ethical questions that are difficult to answer. Is this natural? Are we interrupting nature’s flow? Are the babies that matured in the bag artificial? How will parents feel about seeing their newborn encased in a plastic bag for weeks?

Despite the many issues and challenges, researchers are excited for the future.

It is best that we take this medical breakthrough with a grain of salt and congratulate ourselves, while continuing to strive for more refined techniques for saving lives.

Scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have successfully kept premature lambs alive for weeks using their own artificial womb that resembles a plastic bag. Not only did the lambs survive, they also grew and matured, mirroring the growth they would have gone through had they been in a natural lamb womb.

How does this work? 

The artificial bag, made of polyethylene, provides everything the lamb fetus requires. The plastic bag imitates amniotic fluid, a mixture of warm water and added salts, which is inhaled by the fetus. The blue arrows represent gallons of this mixture that are constantly pumped through the bag to ensure a fresh supply. The other essential aspect required by the lamb is the oxygen and nutrients it gets from its mother via the placenta. In the artificial womb, the special machine (marked “gas exchange machine” on the diagram) is connected to the lamb’s umbilical cord, and the lamb’s heart pumps old, used blood to the machine to be replenished before the blood flows back through the tubes to the lamb. In the study conducted by researchers, the premature lambs developed normally in the bags, reaching all the milestones-the opening of eyes and growth of a wool coat. After the lambs had matured enough and their lungs were developed, they were released to breathe air.

What does this mean for humanity?

Currently, babies born prematurely at 23 weeks of gestation, similar to the age of the lamb fetus, are placed in incubators and ventilators so they can breathe, but their lungs do not develop properly in this way. The chance of survival is close to 0% at less than 23 weeks, 15% at 23 weeks, 55% at 24 weeks, and 80% at 25 weeks. The bio bag will increase all chances of survival for premature babies, providing a new way to support those who are born too early, but not to replace the role of mothers entirely. Though this treatment is promising, human trials are still a few years away and many more problems may arise in the future.

What are the problems?

Researches say that there is significant risk of infection albeit the sterile and sealed bag. Moreover, human babies are significantly more complex than lamb fetuses; the precise combination of essential nutrients and hormones is difficult to obtain and may require several more years of research and clinical trials to achieve.

This also raises a few ethical questions that are difficult to answer. Is this natural? Are we interrupting nature’s flow? Are the babies that matured in the bag artificial? How will parents feel about seeing their newborn encased in a plastic bag for weeks?

Despite the many issues and challenges, researchers are excited for the future.

It is best that we take this medical breakthrough with a grain of salt and congratulate ourselves, while continuing to strive for more refined techniques for saving lives.

ScienceBuzz Admin

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First Artificial Womb

Scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have successfully kept premature lambs alive for weeks using their own artificial womb that resembles a plastic bag. Not only did the lambs survive, they also grew and matured, mirroring the growth they would have gone through had they been in a natural lamb womb.

How does this work? 

The artificial bag, made of polyethylene, provides everything the lamb fetus requires. The plastic bag imitates amniotic fluid, a mixture of warm water and added salts, which is inhaled by the fetus. The blue arrows represent gallons of this mixture that are constantly pumped through the bag to ensure a fresh supply. The other essential aspect required by the lamb is the oxygen and nutrients it gets from its mother via the placenta. In the artificial womb, the special machine (marked “gas exchange machine” on the diagram) is connected to the lamb’s umbilical cord, and the lamb’s heart pumps old, used blood to the machine to be replenished before the blood flows back through the tubes to the lamb. In the study conducted by researchers, the premature lambs developed normally in the bags, reaching all the milestones-the opening of eyes and growth of a wool coat. After the lambs had matured enough and their lungs were developed, they were released to breathe air.

What does this mean for humanity?

Currently, babies born prematurely at 23 weeks of gestation, similar to the age of the lamb fetus, are placed in incubators and ventilators so they can breathe, but their lungs do not develop properly in this way. The chance of survival is close to 0% at less than 23 weeks, 15% at 23 weeks, 55% at 24 weeks, and 80% at 25 weeks. The bio bag will increase all chances of survival for premature babies, providing a new way to support those who are born too early, but not to replace the role of mothers entirely. Though this treatment is promising, human trials are still a few years away and many more problems may arise in the future.

What are the problems?

Researches say that there is significant risk of infection albeit the sterile and sealed bag. Moreover, human babies are significantly more complex than lamb fetuses; the precise combination of essential nutrients and hormones is difficult to obtain and may require several more years of research and clinical trials to achieve.

This also raises a few ethical questions that are difficult to answer. Is this natural? Are we interrupting nature’s flow? Are the babies that matured in the bag artificial? How will parents feel about seeing their newborn encased in a plastic bag for weeks?

Despite the many issues and challenges, researchers are excited for the future.

It is best that we take this medical breakthrough with a grain of salt and congratulate ourselves, while continuing to strive for more refined techniques for saving lives.

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