Crossing all the hurdles posed by biology as well as technology, scientists have developed an artificial womb that has successfully kept a premature lamb alive for four weeks.
The womb that looks like a plastic zip-lock bag is actually a fluid-filled bag furnished with nutrient-rich blood supply, a protective sac of amniotic fluid and everything else required for a fetus to grow and mature.
Experts who have carried out the experiment at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hope that this success may provide a better chance of survival to premature human babies in a few years. The team says that the process does not aim to replace mothers but only to find more feasible ways for life support for babies who are born too early.
At present, doctors use incubators and ventilators to help babies stay alive and breathe but this can cause damage to the development of their lungs.
This new womb made up of a plastic “biobag” contains a mixture of salts and warm water, just like amniotic fluid, to support the fetus and help it grow. The growing fetus inhales and swallows the fluid, similar to what happens in a natural womb. Therefore, ensuring regular and fresh supply of fluid is imperative. A special machine, that is responsible for supplying oxygen to the premature fetus, is also connected to the bag.
The premature lambs appeared to develop normally in these bags. They would open their eyes, had a wooly skin and looked comfortable in their “biobag womb”. After 28 days, their lungs had matured and they were then released in normal environment so that they could breathe, which happened as expected. However, soon after this, the lambs were killed to find out the growth of their brain and other organs.
A few more experiments followed where lambs were allowed to survive and were bottle-fed by the experimenting team.
Still, there are a few problems such as a high risk of infection, and finding the right mix of nutrients and hormones which are being worked upon.
Watch the video of experiment here: