Scientists successfully grow lamb fetus in artificial uterus
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have achieved a scientific breakthrough: they’ve created an artificial uterus and used it to gestate a lamb from the early stages of pregnancy until it had fully developed a few weeks later. The mother sheep was nowhere near when this little lamb was “born.” It’s a new form of medical technology that may soon be used to help keep premature human babies alive.
Doctors and researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recreated a uterus by using a sealed, sterile plastic bag filled with an electrolytic solution. The lamb’s heart pumped the blood through the artificial umbilical cord and into a gas exchange device where it was enriched with oxygen.
After between 105 and 120 days of gestation (around the 23rd week of human pregnancy) the lamb fetuses were placed in the artificial womb. Four weeks later, the lungs and brain of the test animals were fully formed; they could open their eyes, swallow, move their bodies, and they had even grown their first wool.
The artificial uterus could drastically improve the chances of survival for human babies born before the 25th week of pregnancy. “These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world. If we can develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies,” explained senior researcher Alan Flake.
You can find out more about this amazing experiment in this video:
The scientists hope to have the new technology adapted for human use in three to five years. When they succeed, it will introduce a whole new era in which premature babies will be given those important weeks that they need as a foundation for healthy development.