Artificial Gestation– A team of scientists from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has conducted an experiment on premature lambs in external plastic bag wombs
The scientists wanted to know what it would entail to complete a baby’s gestation period outside the biological womb.
According to the scientists the idea is to see the possibility of ensuring a better development plan for premature babies of about 23-24 weeks.
Researcher Dr Emily Partridge said:
“The challenging age that we are trying to offset is that 23- to 24-week baby who is faced with such a challenge of adapting to life outside of the uterus on dry land, breathing air when they are not supposed to be there yet.”
They say that this move is not in any way to replace the role of mothers but to ensure babies come out healthy especially as premature babies.
The artificial gestation initiative was suggested since the use of incubators and ventilators at a delicate stage of the fetus formation affect lung development among other possible complications.
Medical findings have shown that babies who are born prematurely at 23 weeks, often have a slim chance of survival.
Preterm babies are at increased risk of illness, disability and death.
Thus the artificial gestation idea is to find a better way of preserving the life and health of these endangered preterm babies.
First, the preterm lambs are put into a plastic bag which serves as the amniotic sac. The amniotic sac naturally houses and cushions the fetus. It contains a fluid which holds the baby in the womb and regulates the body temperature.
To save the baby, the plastic bag is filled with similar contents of the natural amniotic sac. The plastic bag for instance contains water, sodium and baby cells.
Gallons of the amniotic mixture are regularly flushed through the bag on daily basis in order to ensure a continuous fresh supply.
Naturally the fluid is swallowed by the growing fetus, this also happens during this process of artificial gestation.
Since the lamb representing the fetus cannot get oxygen through the placenta which connects it to the mother, an artificial oxygen source is attached to the plastic bag womb. The machine is attached to the umbilical cord.
After due observation, Dr Alan Flake, one of the lead scientists found that the lambs were behaving fine as expected under natural conditions.
“They appear to have normal development in all respects,”
However, the scientists admit that there are still concerns over the artificial gestation process. For one, infections are a major feared risk of artificial gestation.
They also noted that finding the appropriate quantities of nutrients and hormones for the real human fetus will be a problem as well.
Report shows that the premature lambs used for the experiment were equivalent in age to 23-week-old human infants.