Doctors in the United States have developed a device that simulates the conditions in a mother’s womb and can help save the lives of premature babies, who are usually plagued by several potentially deadly health conditions.
After successfully testing the artificial womb on prematurely born lambs, the researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are now ready to run the prototype on human infants.
The device, christened a ‘biobag’ by its creators, is made of inert plastic and filled with a nutrient-rich liquid. This is similar to the amniotic fluid present in a human uterus, allowing the preterm babies to develop, USA Today reported.
Dr Alan W Fawke, director of the Center for Fetal Research at CHOP, in a statement These infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world.
According to Tommy’s, a neonatal research organisation, premature babies born at 23 weeks have severely underdeveloped lungs, heart, kidneys and other vital organs. They therefore have only a 15 percent chance of survival.
They are also vulnerable to several conditions and impairments, such as chronic lung damage, weak blood vessels, and bleeding in the brain.
The biobag is attached to a machine that pumps in oxygen into the biobag, which will be absorbed by the infant through the umbilical cord. The device also has a monitor that allows doctors to regulate the vital signs of the baby.
The system was initially tested on prematurely born lambs, whose biological makeup is similar to a human infant born at 23 to 25 weeks. The longest a baby lamb was kept inside the device was for 28 days, after which the experiment was stopped due to animal testing protocols.
While the research study is small and the findings miniscule, the doctors at CHOP are optimistic about the fighting chance the device offers to these tiny patients.