Shorter the period of pregnancy, higher is the risks of mortality or defects in the baby. Premature babies are at increased risks of death during the first year of their life due to increased risk of chronic health problem and infections.
Prematurity causes around 50,000 deaths per year globally.
Scientists have developed a fluid-filled extra-uterine support device similar to mother’s womb that could help the premature babies survive outside the mother’s womb in the similar environment.
The fluid-filled incubation system closely mimics the development of life in the womb to improve the chance of survival in extremely premature babies.
The artificial womb was created with sealed bags made of polythene that contained amniotic fluid to supply the required nutrition and protection for growth. A placenta-like system was also attached to provide oxygen and for the exchange of the gasses with the umbilical cord.
Fluid-Filled Extra-Uterine Device Supports Premature Lamb (photo credit: The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)
The artificial womb provided the opportunity to the premature baby to develop their organs completely in the womb-like environment. The amniotic fluid present around protects the baby from infections, provides insulation and maintains the necessary condition around the baby.
In the preclinical studies, six premature lambs were kept in the artificial wombs for four weeks. These lambs remained stable and developed normally. After four weeks, the lambs showed healthy circulation, blood pressure, metabolism, and normal organ development and growth in the artificial womb.
These results encouraged the scientists to plan for the similar external womb conditions for extremely premature human babies who are about one-third the size of lambs.
Dr. Alan Flake at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) who led the research hopes that an extra-uterine support system for premature babies would be possible to be used clinically in a decade.
“We’ve developed a system that, as closely as possible, reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta,” said Dr. Alan Flake.
The system comprises of a circulatory system in which the baby’s heart pumps the blood through the umbilical cord around the system, and no artificial external pump is used.
The whole system works together to provide a stable environment for the premature baby similar as mother’s womb. The baby’s heart pumps the blood through the umbilical cord into the artificial placenta system to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the baby remains in the stable fluid environment.
“Fluid is very important in terms of fetal lung development,” said Flake.
Researchers are hopeful that the extra-uterine support device would help to improve the survival rates of the extremely premature babies in the coming times. The research details are published in the journal Nature Communications.