Artificial womb could save premature infants

Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are developing an artificial womb that could save the lives of extremely premature infants.

Roughly 1 in 10 infants born in the United States has some degree of prematurity. This artificial womb would be used for those at the very limit of viability.

Current medical science attaches infants to ventilators and blood-scrubbers and a variety of devices that make the baby’s still-developing organs do the work of supporting life.

The new artificial womb mimics the environment in the placenta, where the infant floats in fluid and gets nutrition and oxygen through the umbilical cord. This allows the organs to continue to develop without the stress of supporting the body.

The device has been tested using premature lambs that are at a state of development comparable to a barely viable human infant. The device cleans and oxygenates the blood, and provide the nutrients the infant needs.

Extremely premature lambs appeared to grow normally inside the system for three to four weeks, the team reported on April 25.

The device is still at least a few years away from being ready for human testing.

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