Artificial Placenta Keeps Premature Lambs Alive for 28 Days

Artificial Placenta Keeps Premature Lambs Alive for 28 Days

Artificial Placenta Keeps Premature Lambs Alive for 28 Days

"We show that fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to four weeks", the researchers wrote in their abstract.

The technology was developed with fetal lambs grown in a temperature-controlled, near-sterile environment, breathing artificial amniotic fluid, their hearts pumping blood through their umbilical cord into a gas exchange machine outside the bag, CHOP explains.

Today, premature infants weighing as little as 500 grammes are connected to ventilators and other machines inside incubators.

In early-stage animal testing, extremely premature lambs grew, apparently normally, inside the system for three to four weeks, the team reported on Tuesday.

She noted that human testing is still three to five years away, although the researchers are already in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration.

This was only cut short to comply with animal protocols, according to reports in Nature Communications journal, which published the work led by researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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The final method was tested on eight lambs. "We simulate that environment. allowing the lungs and other organs to develop while supplying nutrients and growth factors", he said.

"Dr David Tingay, from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, called it an exciting development". The fluid is made of water and salts, just like in a real womb, and the bag is sealed to protect the foetus from infection.

" This system is potentially far superior to what hospitals can now do for a 23-week-old baby born at the cusp of viability".

The artificial womb is created to take these premature babies and put them back into an environment they are best suited for, where they can inhale fluid and allow a technological placenta to feed them oxygen and nutrients. There are high hopes that the technology could greatly extend the survival rate of infants born at 23 weeks, which is now close to 15pc. In tests the lambs were kept in the wombs in a dark room and played the sound of a sheep's heartbeat.

"What they've got is a system where the fetus is really existing very much as it would in the mother's womb", Anna David of University College London who was not involved in the study told Science. One of the surviving lambs now lives a healthy life on a farm in Pennsylvania. It could also reduce the estimated $43 billion hospitals spend on premature infant care annually.

The researchers are now working with the FDA on preliminary studies to clear the way for the first clinical trial of the device in human babies.

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