'Plastic bag' womb could help keep premature babies alive

A newly-tested artificial womb could change the way doctors care for babies born prematurely, according to new research.

Flake said the success of the system, details of which were published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, was due to its mimicking life in the uterus as closely as possible.

This environment has a fixed temperature, is sterile and filled with amniotic fluid. They say the device could transform care for extremely premature babies - born at between 23 and 26 weeks of gestation - and significantly improve their chances of survival.

But that day isn't here yet.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the United Kingdom also report poor survival of babies born at gestations below 24 weeks, despite great progress in neonatal care.

To circulate blood and oxygen, the researchers created a pumpless circulatory system that was connected to the umbilical blood vessels of the infant.

However, Flake said the Biobags serve as crucial bridges between the womb and the world - especially for premature babies between 23 and 28 weeks.

Such premature births are responsible for one-third of infant deaths and half of the cerebral palsy cases in the country.

Eight lambs, equivalent to a 23- or 24-week humans were tested using the current system. Over its four weeks in the artificial womb, the lamb started to grow a wool coat, gained weight, and even opened its eyes.

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"This, in theory, should allow support of premature infants for a period of weeks, and thereby reduce dramatically their mortality and morbidity rates and improve their outcomes in both the short and long terms", the researcher detailed.

-Then the researchers attached the umbilical cord to a machine that exchanges carbon dioxide in blood with oxygen, like a placenta normally does.

The baby lamb showed remarkable improvement in growth as its body was soon covered with adorable white fur.

Incubators isolate premature babies from bacteria and germs while outside the womb, and keep the babies warm, but are limited in offering any other supportive processes.

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. 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 low-cost materials. "I think it's just an wonderful thing to sit there and watch the fetus on this support acting like it normally acts in the womb".

Alan Flake of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia led the team that developed and tested the new artificial womb.

"We've had several animals since the paper was first submitted that have come out of the system and for all intents and purposes looking at those animals everything appears normal from a neurodevelopmental standpoint", he said. They discovered that the artificially grown lambs had hearts and lungs that developed correctly without any abnormalities.

Flake and his fellow researchers at CHOP are now working with the FDA on preliminary studies to clear the way for the first clinical trial of the device in human babies, NewsWorks.org reports.

  • Ismael Montgomery