Artificial womb prototype on the cards

Attempts to create an artificial womb for premature babies have been given a boost in the Netherlands.

A grant of €2.9m has been provided to develop a working prototype for use in clinics.

The model, which is being developed by researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology, would provide babies with artificial respiration.

Unlike incubators, the artificial womb would be similar to biological conditions.

The baby would be surrounded by fluids and receiveoxygen and nutrients through an artificial placenta connected to its umbilical cord.

Professor Guid Oei says current approaches are problematic as premature babies do not yet have fully developed lungs or intestines.

This means attempts to deliver oxygen or nutrients directly to their undeveloped organs can result in damage.

This would not be the case with an artificial womb, Oei says.

“When we put the lungs back under water then they can develop, they can mature, but the baby will receive the oxygen by the umbilical cord, just like in the natural womb.”

Oei ‘s team hopes to have a working prototype of their artificial womb ready for use in clinics within five years.

According to the charity Tommy’s, babies born before 22 weeks gestation have almost no chance of survival.

At 22 weeks their chance of survival is only around 10 percent.

At 24 weeks. however, survival rates rise to about 60 percent.

Oei sys about a million babies worldwide die due to prematurity.

Survivors are at risk of a range of disabilities.

Although providing an artificial womb for human babies is still a while away, premature animals have been successfully reared in artificial womb-type environments.

In 2017 researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia demonstrated that an artificial womb, known as the “biobag”, could keep alive lambs that were born at the equivalent of 23 weeks of a human pregnancy.

During their time in the biobags, the lambs continued to develop, turning from bald to fluffy in the process. After being removed from the biobags, the lambs grew up normally.


Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , ,