An Artificial Womb Offers Hope For Preemies

Scientists have developed an artificial womb that could someday save the lives of extremely premature babies.

AsianScientist (Aug. 23, 2017) – An artificial womb has been successfully used to incubate healthy baby lambs for a period of one week, according to a study published in The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The researchers hope the technology will one day be able to do the same for extremely premature babies.

Infants born at 22-23 weeks gestation are at the border of viability and have poor survival rates. To see if they could give such premature babies a better chance of survival, a team of researchers from the Women and Infants Research Foundation, the University of Western Australia, and Tohoku University Hospital tested an artificial womb using prematurely delivered lambs.

“At its core, our equipment is essentially is a high-tech amniotic fluid bath combined with an artificial placenta. Put those together, and with careful maintenance what you’ve got is an artificial womb,” said study author Associate Professor Matt Kemp of the University of Western Australia.

The study showed that using ex vivo uterine environment (EVE) therapy, preterm lambs could be successfully maintained in a healthy, infection-free condition with significant growth for a period of one week.

With further development, EVE therapy could prevent the severe morbidity suffered by extremely premature infants by potentially offering a medical technology that does not currently exist, Kemp said.

“Designing treatment strategies for extremely preterm infants is a challenge,” he said. “At this gestational age the lungs are often too structurally and functionally under-developed for the baby to breathe easily.”

“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 end goal is to provide preterm babies the chance to better develop their lungs and other important organs before being brought into the world.”

Kemp said that as equally exciting as the research outcomes, was the collaborative element of the study. Perth-based researchers, including visiting Fellow Dr. Haruo Usuda, work year-round with researchers from Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai (led by Associate Professor Masatoshi Saito and Dr. Shimpei Watanabe) and the Artificial Placenta Development Team at Nipro Corporation in Osaka (led by Mr. Shinichi Kawamura).

“This project is a wonderful example of international collaboration; it brings together leading academic researchers from Japan and Western Australia, and is undertaken in close partnership with one of Japan’s foremost biomedical technology companies, Nipro Corporation,” he said.

“Not only do we have some of the best minds in the field working on this much needed treatment, we also have a clear pathway for moving the results of our work beyond the laboratory and into clinical use. We now have a much better understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and although significant development is required, a life support system based around EVE therapy may provide an avenue to improve outcomes for extremely preterm infants.”

The article can be found at: Usuda et al. (2017) Successful Maintenance of Key Physiological Parameters in Preterm Lambs Treated with Ex Vivo Uterine Environment Therapy for a Period of One Week.


Source: Tohoku University; Photo: Women and Infants Research Foundation.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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