Are Artificial Wombs the Future for Preemie Care?

New Artificial Womb May Help Preemies Develop More Safely

In a world where many babies are born prematurely resulting in health problems for some, a method is in the works to create a sustainable, temporary living environment until they are ready for the world. These “super-preemies” are often very fragile, with underdeveloped lungs, brains, and other organs, which makes them susceptible to injury.

Recently, Dr. Allen Flake of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has successfully tested the viability of a “biobag” (an artificial womb) for premature lambs. He hopes to create similar accommodations for human preemies in the near future to allow them to continue their development in a womb-like environment after premature birth.

Premature Birth Comes with Risks – A Safe Developmental Environment Could Help

Preterm babies placed in incubators have a high risk for infection because outside air is constantly flowing through the incubator. However, this prototype “biobag” is completely sealed, mimicking the conditions of a real uterus and eliminating most of the risk for infection. Currently, this“biobag” is in the animal testing stage, but is estimated to be ready for human trials in three to five years.

This artificial womb will provide for babies born prematurely, and will be modified to look less like a plastic bag and more like an incubator, providing the opportunity for parents to interact with and see their child. While some doctors acknowledge that the visual experience of seeing one’s child growing in an artificial uterus while they grow to term may be difficult, they recognize that the potential benefits would be a vast improvement from the current standard of care.

During the experimental stage with the premature lambs, reports showed that while inside the artificial womb, “the lambs showed normal breathing and swallowing, opened their eyes, grew wool, became more active, and had normal growth, neurological function and organ maturation.” Lambs were chosen for this experimental trial because their lung development is similar to that of humans. Lambs were examined after being “birthed” from the artificial womb. The examined lambs “appear[ed] to have normal development in all respects.” Several have been donated to a farm in rural Pennsylvania.