Artificial Womb Developed to Help Premature Babies Grow
Apr 27, 2017, 01:58
"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist", saidstudy leader Alan Flake, from the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (Chpop).
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The researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia tested the extra-uterine device in 8 fetal lambs physiologically equivalent to a 23- or 24-week gestation human infant.
Assuming that further testing proves the technology can be used for premature human babies, the researchers believe that the technology could be in use in ten years' time.
Previously, researchers have investigated versions of an artificial placenta in animal models, but pumpless systems have achieved a maximum duration of 60 hours, and the animals have sustained brain damage. After four weeks, however, eight lambs were "born" out of the sacks with normal, healthy development and lung function on par with a mature infant.
"Our system could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not now exist", Dr.
A child born at 23 weeks has huge health complications as vital organs, particularly the lungs are not developed.
The machine, described in the journal Nature Communications, consists of a plastic bag which is kept full of electrolyte solution made in a lab to simulate amniotic fluid.
"I would be very concerned if other parties wanted to use this device to try to extend the limits of viability". He is shown near giant tanks holding a liquid created to simulate amniotic fluid. The device, however, doesn't use external pumps to circulate blood nor ventilators.
When the researchers first conceived the artificial womb about three years ago, still thinking of it as "science fiction", they didn't yet have a grant - much less advanced equipment. "The whole idea is to support normal development; to re-create everything that the mother does in every way that we can to support normal fetal development and maturation", Alan explained.
For human infants, that critical point comes at about 28 weeks old, when the lungs have developed enough to allow the infant to breathe air. However, the artificial womb prototype can improve the infant's chances of survival. They remained in the artificial wombs for up to 28 days.
But before being tested on human infants, any new device will have to make it through more animal trials to demonstrate its safety for testing in humans.
Flake told reporters that his team is now working with the US Food and Drug Administration to design a preclinical study to further evaluate the safety and efficacy of the system.
The hope is that one day this technology will be used to aid the development of severely premature babies.
Today, infants brought into the world after only 22 or 23 weeks of gestation rather than the full 40 have a 50-50 chance of living, and - for those that survive - a 90% change of severe and lasting health problems.
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