Imagine a baby that needs to be delivered prematurely. But instead of worrying about the age of viability, care providers can quickly place the baby in an artificial womb which potentially save the life of a child who would have died.
Research groups around the world are exploring the possibility of artificial gestation. For instance, one group successfully grew a lamb in an artificial womb for about four weeks. Australian researchers have also experimented it with artificial gestation for lambs and sharks.
Researchers in the Netherlands received €2.9m to develop a prototype for gestating premature babies.
What is an artificial womb?
An artificial womb, also referred to as a biobag is a device that allows for a baby’s gestation to occur outside of the human body. In the general public, an artificial womb is often regarded as an extraordinary neonatal incubator.
However, most scientists or care providers would argue that an incubator with artificial womb serve very different functions.
When premature infants are transferred to humidicribs to continue their development in a neonatal unit is known as partial “ectogenesis”. But an artificial womb could extend the period by which a fetus could be gestated outside the body. Eventually we might be able to do away with human wombs altogether.
How does an artificial womb work?
An artificial womb is intended to facilitate the process of ectogenesis, which is the development of a fetus in an artificial environment following transfer from a maternal womb. The biobag is a sealed bag that has umbilical cord access and also an oxygenator circuit. Much like a maternal womb, the bag stays completely sealed to minimize the risk of exposure or infection.
Inside of the bag, amniotic fluid with all of the necessary nutrients and water is constantly exchanged. A cannula acts as an umbilical cord would do in the maternal fetal system by carrying nutrients and oxygen to the baby. Successful oxygenation of the baby is dependent on the heart and an oxygenator working together which is supposed to mimic normal maternal placental blood flow.
Artificial Wombs advantage
Artificial wombs are often discussed in relation to prematurity but they could have additional applications.
It’s advantage are as follows:
1. It’s helps in fetal surgery implications
At this time, some fetal surgeries cannot be performed until after term delivery. In medically necessary cases, an artificial womb may offer the chance for both successful surgery and term gestation.
2. Initiation of fetal development
For someone who doesn’t have a functioning womb or has been diagnosed with infertility, growing a baby in an artificial womb could potentially offer the chance for full gestation of a child.
3. Assistance in fetal development
This is related to premature birth. Maybe should in case a couple find that their child needs to be delivered early, an artificial womb could be used to ensure complete development. This possibility could significantly affect the age of viability which is currently around 24 weeks.