In their pursuit of a way to help babies whose growth and development might be endangered by premature birth during the second trimester, the scientists have created something that could act as an artificial womb. This new technology could not only keep the children alive but could even go as far as help with their full development into a healthy, fully grown baby.
The ‘biobag’, which is the name given to this experimental, artificial womb, is actually a plastic bag that’s filled with fluid and that must at all times be kept in a state that realistically mimics the uterus. It has the umbilical chord that will be used to transport oxygen and blood that will be provided by a special device. For now, the goal is to keep the baby into the biobag for several weeks, until it develops enough to be safely removed and placed on a ventilator that will then be used to help the child breathe until the lungs are strong enough to start breathing on their own.
Before the biobag was developed, any baby that was born at around 22 weeks had only 50% chances to survive, and that was with the use of all the technology we had so far. Furthermore, even the children that managed to survive were almost sure to develop a series of problems that had the potential to last well into adulthood, if not during their entire life.
The current tech would damage the lungs of a 24-week old infant if it gets exposed to it, even if it’s only for a couple hours. However, without this technology, the baby would die, and so the doctors don’t have a choice but to connect the child to the devices.
The biobag could take all of it away, and even though the tests on humans have yet to be performed, the developers have tested it on a prematurely born lambs, and the results have been described as outstanding. Despite this, it’s predicted that the first human tests are still three years away at best since there are a lot more problems that need to be taken care of.
Some of the issues with the device include the shrinking of umbilical chord, which occurs as soon as it’s hit by air, which makes it very hard to fit tubes into it. Also, there’s the problem of contamination, since the biobag can easily get infected. These are only some of the problems that have yet to be taken care of.
— STAT (@statnews) April 25, 2017
Still, the experiments with the lambs show great progress and give hope that someday, many more lives of children could be saved through scientific methods. The video of the lamb has also been released, and one of the lambs that were placed in the biobag has even been allowed to live and grow naturally after the experiment was finished. It’s further growth and development is completely normal and without any complications as of yet.