An illustration of a fetal lamb inside the “artificial womb” device, which mimics the conditions inside a pregnant animal.- The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Scientists have created an “artificial womb” in the hopes of someday using the device to save babies born extremely prematurely.
So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.
“We’ve been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model,” says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
“They’ve had normal growth. They’ve had normal lung maturation. They’ve had normal brain maturation. They’ve had normal development in every way that we can measure it,” Flake says.
Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.
“What we tried to do is develop a system that mimics the environment of the womb as closely as possible,” Flake says. “It’s basically an artificial womb.”
Carmela Torres was 18 when she became pregnant for the first time. It was 1987 and she and her now-husband, Pablo Hernandez, were two idealistic young Colombians born in the coastal region of Montería who moved to the capital, Bogotá, in search of freedom and a better life. When Torres told her father she was expecting, so angered was he by the thought of his daughter having a child out of wedlock that they didn’t speak to each other for years.
Before she had a chance to hold him, her baby was whisked off to a neonatal intensive-care unit. Torres was simply told to get dressed and go home. “I didn’t even get to touch him,” she says. “They said I could come back and see him but the visiting times were very restricted—just a couple of hours a day. When I did visit I was allowed to look but not touch.”
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