Premature lambs kept alive in 'plastic bag' womb

Premature lambs kept alive in 'plastic bag' womb

Scientists in the United States have developed a fluid-filled womb-like bag known as an extra-uterine support device that could transform care for extremely premature babies, significantly improving chances of survival.

Scientists have been able to keep premature lambs alive for weeks using an artificial womb that looks like a plastic bag, providing a nutrient-rich blood supply and a protective sac of amniotic fluid, researchers reported.

The successful animal testing suggests the first-of-its-kind incubation might work in the case of extremely premature babies.

Today, premature infants weighing as little as 500 grammes are connected to ventilators and other machines inside incubators.

The team is reportedly in discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and predicts babies could be incubated in the system within three years of the first clinical trial, The Guardian reports. The animals "breathed" and swallowed normally, opened their eyes, grew wool and developed properly functioning nerves and organs, said the researchers in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers successfully tested eight lamb fetuses this way. The researchers say they chose lambs for their experiment because their lung development is very similar to humans.

The lamb's heart circulates the blood, without the need for any other pump. In fact, it is a bag of amniotic fluid. That's not saying that a premature baby will not be as intelligent as a baby born later, but a 2016 study found that full-term babies experience more brain growth during the third trimester (final 13 to 14 weeks of pregnancy) compared to premature infants, who are born before 37 weeks.

The research team tested the wombs on 7 premature lambs, 5 of them born extremely premature and 3 born slightly less premature.

Babies born during this span often suffer permanent disabilities such as cerebral palsy and lung disease, but CHOP's artificial womb could help parents and doctors avoid that outcome.

" This system is potentially far superior to what hospitals can now do for a 23-week-old baby born at the cusp of viability". The environment of each artificial womb allowed all of the lamb fetuses to survive and thrive. One of the surviving lambs now lives a healthy life on a farm in Pennsylvania. 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.

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