Advances in the field of neonatal care represent some of the most important advances in medical science since childbirth, diagnosis, and management of child defects are still too much common. The leading death cause for newborns is the premature birth. In the year 2010, one out of 1 of the world infants was born prematurely, and more than million of those children died of the various secondary complication that they experienced after early birth. Devising a way to help those babies could only be described as one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century, which is exactly why physicians from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have invested into research for the creation of the artificial womb.
And they did it. Their great discovery that was depicted in detail in journal Nature Communications comes in the form of a uterus-like “biobag” that can create an equivalent of the environment inside the womb which can sustain prematurely born fetuses very shortly after they have begun their development. For the purpose of their test, the researchers worked only with fetuses of the lambs. Their greatest achievement happened when they successfully moved a lamb that has started its development just 105 days before the procedure. This timing was so early, that it ensured that without the help of the artificial womb the fetus most certainly die. At the equivalent timing with a human fetus, that baby would also have no chance of survival.
Lamb fetuses were not only fully sustained inside the womb, but they were also able to remain there for prolonged period of time. More precisely all eight lambs fetuses that were involved in the study managed to survive for four weeks, during which time they better developed their lungs, grew hair and reached the stage of development that researchers targeted to achieve – the stage when fetuses could survive outside of the womb on their own. This great achievement proved that carefully created environment inside biobags could successfully mimic the natural conditions found in the uterus.
If developed correctly, this procedure could be used to save the incredible amount of human lives. Medical community assigns the condition of “premature birth” to any baby which was born before 37th (out of the normal term of 40) week of their development. Babies that survive such an early birth can develop a wide variety of secondary health conditions, most notably chronic lung, and brain diseases. Babies born earlier than the 37th week are considered to be in the strong risk of dying, which is exactly why the development of this artificial womb could offer so much hope to prematurely born babies. The artificial womb cannot be used to cover an entire 9-month term but can be useful to cover more than the last third of the time, which is an incredible achievement.
The team of the physicians that has developed this artificial womb has started the talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start next round of clinical trials for this procedure. The next slate of results of their efforts will most likely be presented to the public in 3 to 5 years.
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