Humanity has been trying to solve the greatest puzzles of life and one of these is reproduction, a fundamental feature of all known life. This is exactly what a team of researchers is trying to achieve with their recent milestone.
Interestingly, they’ve managed to successfully grow a preterm lamb using an artificial womb. It may still be far from human reproduction, but it’s still a huge step towards it. This is the second time that such achievement has been achieved.
The artificial womb keeps the premature lamb alive and helps in developing its body.
The researchers took the premature lamb and had it developed in the said womb for a week. The animal was successfully grown within an infection-free environment using the so-called ex-vivo uterine environment or EVE.
According to IFLScience, this discovery could potentially save millions of preterm babies since it is worth-noting that over half of them tend to die.
Here's an infographic explaining how the artificial womb works.
The preterm lamb was somehow analogous to a real human fetus and aged more or less 23 weeks old. The researchers carefully placed it in a plastic bag filled with artificial amniotic fluid.
The animal’s umbilical cord was then attached to a machine, whereas the amniotic fluid entered its lungs. Keep in mind that this is the same process that naturally occurs in a human mother’s womb.
However, this processed is deemed critical because this is where premature infants tend to die due to lack of oxygen. Hence the researchers have to be very careful and creative at the same time. If they were to attach the underdeveloped lungs to a simple ventilator, it could extremely damage the other organs.
Most preterm babies die from lack of oxygen while others just couldn’t survive the process.
Associate Professor Matt Kemp had this to say:
At its core, our equipment is essentially a high-tech amniotic fluid bath combined with an artificial placenta.”
He further said:
By providing an alternative means of gas exchange for the fetus, we hoped to spare the extremely preterm cardiopulmonary system from ventilation-derived injury, and save the lives of those babies whose lungs are too immature to breathe properly.”
The previous record of a lamb surviving an artificial womb was 60 hours. With the use of a brand new technique, the researchers were able to go beyond the record. Add to this the fact that they were able to effectively pump the animal’s heart using the system.
They are now continuing their study in order to achieve better results and they hope that one day, they can develop a technology that can save millions of preterm babies.
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