Researchers have designed a womb-like device that could allow premature babies to develop their lungs and organs in the critical few weeks that remain before they face the outside world.
It could take up to another 10 years, but by then he hopes to have a licensed device in which babies born very prematurely are given the chance to develop in fluid-filled chambers, rather than lying in incubators being artificially ventilated. Lambs are also not a very good model to predict the likelihood of brain hemorrhage, one of the big risks for premature babies, but some of these questions can't be answered until the researchers test their system in humans.
The artificial womb study has been fast tracked by the US Food and Drug Administration and the researchers are now undertaking further animal trials, which they hope to complete within two years, "then move on to first in human use within three to four years", Dr Davey said.
Dr Flake said there was no technology "even on the horizon" that could replace a mother's womb at the earliest stages of foetal development.
Instead, the baby's heart pumps blood via the umbilical cord into the system's low-resistance external oxygenator that substitutes for the mother's placenta in exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. In the United States, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality, with over one-third of all infant deaths and one-half of cerebral palsy attributed to prematurity. "So we accept some lung damage to keep the baby alive".
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The other unique component of the system is the fluid environment that allows the fetus to swallow and breathe amniotic fluid like they naturally would inside the mother's womb. The baby lambs in the study were equivalent in age to 23-week-old human infants. They were euthanised so the researchers could suss their organs and determine the effectiveness of the artificial womb. Once they were delivered from the bags and put on ventilators, most of the lambs were humanely euthanized for the purposes of the study, but a few survived; the eldest is now a year old and seems to be like any other normal lamb, the researchers note. This study is yet to be done on humans and the researchers hope for it to be successful, just like the outcome that the fetal lamb had. Electronic monitors measured vital signs, blood flow and other crucial functions. At 28 weeks they cross the threshold away from the most severe outcomes, researchers said.
They were kept there for four weeks, after which some were "born", removed from the bags and weaned on bottles.
"This will require a lot of additional pre-clinical research and development and this treatment will not enter the clinic any time soon", Duncan said, BBC News reported. One was bottle-weaned and is now more than a year old, apparently healthy and living on a farm in Pennsylvania.
The story Researchers flawless an artificial womb that works as well as ewe do first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.
Flake and team will continue to refine and safety-test the device, which will need to pass through animal trials before humans studies could be considered.
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