tiptrot.com June 27, 2017

Hope for preemies as artificial womb helps tiny lambs grow

03 May 2017, 12:41 | Nichole Osborne

Hope for preemies as artificial womb helps tiny lambs grow

Premature lambs kept alive in 'plastic bag' womb

Dr Alan Flake, director of the Center for Fetal Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, US, said: "Our system could prevent the severe morbidity (illness) suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist".

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are creating an artificial womb to help extremely premature babies.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is aiming for a gentler solution, to give the tiniest preemies a few more weeks cocooned in a womb-like environment - treating them more like fetuses than newborns in hopes of giving them a better chance of healthy survival.

Today, extremely premature babies that weigh as little as a pound are hooked to ventilators and other machines inside their incubators.

Human testing is still several years away, but the recent incubation of the lambs is a good sign of the device's possible success on human infants.

The eight fetal lambs who were tested in the device showed normal development.

"The most important period for developmental events is still entirely dependent on mother nature", Flake said.

Just like any new research, the experiment has been met with both praise and criticism.

Researchers tested the extra-uterine support device and monitored its effects on foetal lambs, in which prenatal lung development is very similar to that occurring in humans.

Advances in technology have allowed many babies delivered after only 22 to 23 weeks to survive. Despite the advanced health care facilities available in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a large number of these infants suffer from a number of health problems, wherein the parents have to decide between opting for extreme health care measures to keep these infants alive and a less painful care. They had also grown wool and could wiggle, open their eyes, and swallow.

The researchers are now working with the FDA on preliminary studies to clear the way for the first clinical trial of the device in human babies. A 1996 New York Times Magazine story declared "the artificial womb exists" and described a Tokyo lab in which baby goats floated in a heated, fake amniotic suspension.

A lamb encases in an artificial womb, with drawing explaining the science.

In the future, this device could potentially help extremely premature babies continue to develop after they're born.

The researchers stressed there is no possibility of using the system to replace a mother's womb at earlier stages of development.

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