Fetus

Faux womb keeps preemie lambs alive

lambs
WOMB WITH A VIEW A lamb at 107 days of gestation (left) — equivalent to about a human fetus at 23 to 24 weeks gestation — matured normally in an artificial womb. Right is the same lamb 28 days later. Such devices may one day help premature babies survive outside the bodies of their mothers.

Premature babies may one day continue developing in an artificial womb, new work with sheep suggests.

A fluid-filled bag that mimics the womb kept premature lambs alive and developing normally for four weeks, researchers report April 25 in Nature Communications. Lambs at a gestational age equivalent to that of a 23- or 24-week-old human fetus had normal lung and brain development after a month in the artificial womb, the researchers discovered. A similar device might be ready for use in premature human babies in three to five years if additional animal tests pan out, study coauthor Alan Flake estimates.

But this is not the science fiction scenario of Brave New World, in which humans were grown entirely in tanks, says Flake, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I don’t view this as something that’s going to replace mothers.” Technical and biological hurdles would prevent doctors from using an artificial womb to rescue premature babies younger than about 23 weeks, he says.

Researchers have been trying for 60 years to make an artificial womb or artificial placenta, says George Mychaliska, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. His own group has been working on an artificial placenta, or what he calls an “extra-corporeal life-support” system for premature babies for a decade. “One month is very impressive, and the data behind that is strong,” Mychaliska says, but adds that what works for lambs might not work as well for…

Faux womb keeps preemie lambs alive

lambs
WOMB WITH A VIEW A lamb at 107 days of gestation (left) — equivalent to about a human fetus at 23 to 24 weeks gestation — matured normally in an artificial womb. Right is the same lamb 28 days later. Such devices may one day help premature babies survive outside the bodies of their mothers.

Premature babies may one day continue developing in an artificial womb, new work with sheep suggests.

A fluid-filled bag that mimics the womb kept premature lambs alive and developing normally for four weeks, researchers report April 25 in Nature Communications. Lambs at a gestational age equivalent to that of a 23- or 24-week-old human fetus had normal lung and brain development after a month in the artificial womb, the researchers discovered. A similar device might be ready for use in premature human babies in three to five years if additional animal tests pan out, study coauthor Alan Flake estimates.

But this is not the science fiction scenario of Brave New World, in which humans were grown entirely in tanks, says Flake, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I don’t view this as something that’s going to replace mothers.” Technical and biological hurdles would prevent doctors from using an artificial womb to rescue premature babies younger than about 23 weeks, he says.

Researchers have been trying for 60 years to make an artificial womb or artificial placenta, says George Mychaliska, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. His own group has been working on an artificial placenta, or what he calls an “extra-corporeal life-support” system for premature babies for a decade. “One month is very impressive, and the data behind that is strong,” Mychaliska says, but adds that what works for lambs might not work as well for…