Scientists successfully grow sheep in artificial womb, now humans to be next
Medical science has improved astronomically in recent years. Ailments and injuries which would have deemed incurable in the not too distant past now have solutions, and as a result, the average human lifespan is increasing. However, there are some problems which we are only just beginning to develop answers to – such as premature birth, which claims the lives of around one million babies every year.
Writing as a person who was born prematurely, I can’t stress enough the toll this has on parents. Because of how small I was when I was born, my mom was unable to hold me until I was a few weeks old. After struggling to fall pregnant, it obviously broke her heart to know that she could only touch her newborn baby through an incubator. But this heartwrenching situation might not be the case for long, reports the Viral Thread.com.
This development is all thanks to the creation of an artificial womb which has been used to successfully grow lamb fetuses. After being born prematurely, they were placed into the ‘bio bag’ – an incredible invention that artificially mimics the environment of the womb.
The lambs grew in the bio bag for a four week period, and during this time, their lungs and brains increased considerably in size, they developed fur, learned how to swallow, and their eyes even opened. As the pictures above demonstrate, these bags are filled with blood and fluid.
Now, it is hoped that this invention could one day be used to help premature humans, although it has only been tested on lambs thus far. This could, quite literally, save the lives of millions over time, with babies born before 20 weeks having almost no chance of surviving.
This invention could also help women who are unable to carry children. If, for example, a woman has cancer, she cannot have chemotherapy without posing a risk to her unborn child, but the bio bag could enable her to not only keep her child but get the treatment she needs.
Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author on the study which was published by the journal Nature Communications, however, has warned people not to get ahead of themselves when it comes to getting excited about the bio bag. This is because is it entirely outwith the realm of possibility to use the bio bag to grow a child from conception onwards.
‘It’s complete science fiction to think that you can take an embryo and get it through the early developmental process and put it on our machine without the mother being the critical element there,’ he said of the ability of the bio bag to act as a replacement womb.
After all, the bio bag was never designed to replace the womb, but to offer babies an alternative way to continue developing if they are born prematurely and increase their odds of survival, Flake added, although it does contain the same key components.
In the bio bag, amniotic fluid is replaced by an electrolyte solution which serves a similar purpose, enabling the fetus to circulate blood around the fetus and exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Pictured below is one of the lambs which grew to term in the bio bag.
Flake hopes that the invention will help to improve the ‘well documented, dismal outcomes’ extremely premature babies face.
Because they have not had a chance to develop properly, these babies require extensive support in order to stand a chance of surviving, which is typically given in the form of mechanical ventilation, medications, and IVs that provide nutrition and fluids.