A research center in Philadelphia recently perfected an artificial womb that has been used to keep baby lambs alive for four weeks outside of their mothers’ wombs. This technology, which has been created to closely mimic the characteristics of the uterus and placenta, could someday be used to keep premature babies alive.
Scientists working on the project have described it as “awe-inspiring;” they’re getting to see a small, undeveloped fetus grow into a living, breathing, swimming and blinking organism. While that sounds grisly to some, the project certainly carries a lot of weight for the future parents of premature infants.
The artificial womb has worked perfectly so far, providing the lambs with all of the nutrients found in amniotic fluids. Researchers hope that human trials can begin in a few years; in the meantime, more animal trials are necessary.
Every year in the UK alone, over 60,000 babies are born before they’re supposed to be. Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death, and the second-highest cause of death for children under five. Globally, more than one in ten births happen prematurely, and the “preemie” babies have between a 0% and 80% chance of survival, depending on when they’re born.
Clearly, death due to premature birth is a tragic issue that has its roots in various forms of suffering; most of the one million children who die a year from premature birth complications are from developing countries, who typically don’t have the equipment or funding to properly help pregnant mothers. And while child death around the world has decreased drastically in the past few years, a way of saving premature babies would decrease those statistics even more.
For modern scientists to recreate the life-giving qualities found in the human body is spectacular, and with any luck, this project will continue successfully over the next few years. No parent should have to go through the loss of a child, especially if that loss could’ve been prevented with the right medical technology.
Besides, any project that involves tiny lambs is already an amazing contributor to science, and the world in general.