A group of scientists have created an artificial womb that could one day help save the lives of premature babies.
The groundbreaking research published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications says that the ‘womb’ – which consists of a special bag filled with amniotic fluid created in a lab - could one day be used to help babies gestate for another month following birth.
The new technology has been tested on animals, with the scientists suspending eight premature lamb fetuses, with an equivalent age of a 23-week-old human foetus, in the liquid-filled wombs for four weeks. During this time, the lambs’ organs and brains appeared to develop normally, and they fattened up and opened their eyes.
The scientists are reportedly now hoping to fully complete their animal studies within the next two years, with the aim of beginning to treat human babies (if the animal studies are approved) within the next three to five years.
Human babies are considered premature if they are born before 37 weeks, and there are 60,000 babies born prematurely in the UK every year.
Alan Flake, the lead author of the study and a foetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, emphasised the importance of the research in helping to support premature babies born between 23 and 28 weeks gestation.
“If we can support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies,” he told The Guardian.