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Researchers create artificial womb to help premature babies

11 May 2017

The study, published Tuesday, successfully kept unborn lambs alive in an artificial womb with nutrient-rich liquids.

Each year, about 30,000 babies in the USA are born critically preterm, spending less than 26 weeks in their mother's womb.

Any baby born prior to the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature. At the start of the test, the fetal lamb test subjects were roughly the same gestational age as a critically premature human fetus.

In early-stage testing, conducted on lambs, they found that extremely premature lambs grew apparently regularly, inside of the container for about three to four weeks.

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Advancements in healthcare and medical technology has steadily improved the odds for premature babies.

The device looks like a large water pillow and is filled with laboratory-produced amniotic fluid.

With appropriate nutritional support, lambs on the system demonstrate normal somatic growth, lung maturation, brain growth and myelination. 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. They were euthanised so the researchers could suss their organs and determine the effectiveness of the artificial womb.

In the study, lambs that could not otherwise survive on their own were able to survive up to four weeks in the artificial womb, giving them enough time to sufficiently develop their lungs and other organs. The growing fetus inhales and swallows the fluid, similar to what happens in a natural womb. The doctors have been working on the artificial womb for years, starting on their own, with their own funds, and using a variety of surplus and affordable materials.

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"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist", said study leader Alan W Flake, from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in the US.

Get to know about the artificial womb that scientists created to save babies who are born premature.

A previous study in goat foetuses supported life in two goats for more than 22 days until eventual circulatory failure.

"We've developed a system that-as closely as possible-reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta", coauthor Alan Flake told reporters during an April 24 press briefing.

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Researchers create artificial womb to help premature babies