Medicine

Ewe, get a womb! Docs grow baby lambs in shrink-wrap plastic bags

Ewe, get a womb! Docs grow baby lambs in shrink-wrap plastic bags”

Scientists first developed a womb-like bag known as extra-uterine support device and tested its efficacy on preterm lamb. Death rates are up to 70 percent and those who do survive face life-long disability.

Leader of the research and fetal surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Alan Flake, says the lambs "appear to have normal development in all respects". The device mimics the womb-like environment and provides the possibility of suspending the baby in it for another few weeks to bring them over the 28-week threshold.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia believe the approach may one day help premature human babies have a better chance of survival.

While the invention sounds more science fiction than reality, it could be taken to human trials with the hope of improving respiratory and neurological outcomes for extremely premature babies as soon as within three years, they say. The premature lambs were the equivalent of a human fetus born during the 23rd week of pregnancy. Instead, they're created to help preterm babies develop normally if their mother's can't carry them for a full pregnancy.

"This could establish a new standard of care for this subset of extremely premature infants".

The device looks like a large water pillow and is filled with laboratory-produced amniotic fluid.

The contraption which amounts to a prenatal fluid-filled plastic bag with an attached mechanical placenta could give them the precious extra few weeks they need.

The researchers plan on continuing to evaluate and refine the system, as well as downsize it for humans, who are about one-third the size of infant lambs.

"We've actually been able to replicate the normal physiology of the fetus", said Flake. Currently, it's an electrolyte solution, but Davey is working to add other components to the liquid to make it more like real amniotic fluid.

The lamb's heart circulates the blood, without the need for any other pump.

The group of scientists worked with five premature lambs aged 105 to 111 days, as they are developmentally similar to a human fetus at 23 weeks and also also experimented with three lambs that were slightly more mature, age 115 to 120 days.

In tests with animal embryos, lambs that were 15 and 17 weeks into the normal 21-week gestation process for sheep were removed by caesarean section, placed into the bags and then monitored.



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