The idea of an artificial womb may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but the innovation isn’t so far off. Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have already tested what’s called a Biobag on premature lambs, keeping them alive outside of their mothers for up to a month.
The Biobags were filled with an electrolyte solution designed to mimic amniotic fluid, while the lambs continued to receive oxygen through their umbilical cords, reports Philly.com. Over the course of four weeks, the lambs grew and developed as if they were still in utero. Based on the results, which have been called “heroic and monumental” by other physicians, Children’s Hospital researchers say that a version of the Biobag may be available to try on human preemies within three years.
Although neonatal intensive care has improved over the past decade, there are high rates of chronic lung disease and other complications—often due to oxygen deprivation—in infants born before 28 weeks. By using the umbilical cord to transmit oxygen, the Biobag would eliminate the need for ventilators, which can easily damage fragile lungs, and allow for a baby’s other organs to mature until they’re capable of breathing on their own.
It's really quite remarkable to watch in action.
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With the Biobag, the baby is able to pump its own blood through its umbilical cord and into a medical device called an oxygenator, which functions like a placenta, sending oxygenated blood back to the baby.
Children’s Hospital researchers plan to do one more animal study, and to upgrade the Biobag with medical-grade plastics. The goal is to create a human version that’s as womb-like as possible. That means that in addition to simulating amniotic fluid and a dark, cozy setting, newborn babies will also hear a recording of mom’s heartbeat.