Eight lambs born prematurely were kept in artificial wombs called Biobags.
After 4 weeks, the lambs’ brains and lungs developed, they grew soft fleece and even opened their eyes.
Scientists are hopeful that this technology will help save premature human babies in the future.
Science Mag writes –
Overcoming engineering, biology, and technology obstacles, a team of researchers has crafted what may be the best artificial womb yet: a fluid-filled bag in which lambs born early can live for up to 4 weeks, before being ushered into the outside world. Although others have designed similar systems that are still in animal testing, this one is notable for its stripped-down simplicity.
The result is a sealed “biobag” with one tube supplying artificial amniotic fluid and another draining it out. Although some lambs experienced complications, and human testing is, at best, several years off, the advance is generating excitement among those who care for pregnant women and their extremely premature babies.
“What they’ve got is a system where the fetus is really existing very much as it would in the mother’s womb,” says Anna David, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at University College London (UCL). “The fetus knows what to do,” she adds, noting that as best they could, the physicians stepped aside and ceded control.
There are two commonly cited endeavors in progress. Focusing on finding ways to save premature babies, Japanese professor Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University, has successfully gestated goat embryos in a machine that holds amniotic fluid in tanks.
On the other end of the process focusing on helping women unable to conceive and gestate babies, is Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, Director of the Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University. Quietly, in 2003, she and her team succeeded in growing a mouse embryo, almost to full term, by adding engineered endometrium tissue to a bio-engineered, extra-uterine “scaffold.”
More recently, she grew a human embryo, for ten days in an artificial womb. Her work is limited by legislation that imposes a 14-day limit on research projects of this nature. As complicated as it is, her goal is a functioning external womb.
The ectogenesis technology itself is highly complicated, though somewhat simple looking. Basically, it appears as an amniotic fluid-filled aquarium with a bunch of feeding tubes and monitoring cables attached to a live, developing organism. Those tubes bring the nutrients, oxygen, etc needed to grow an organism and help it survive; the cables monitor everything going on inside the tank. There’s certainly a Matrix feel to it all.
While much of the technology for starting to experiment with artificially growing a human fetus already exists, bona fide human trials are likely at least a decade off, largely due to the murky legal and ethical implications of the controversial concept.