Now here's a big leap towards developing an artificial womb for humans.
Researchers announced that eight fetal lamb fetuses were kept alive inside external wombs called “biobags” for four weeks which is the longest an animal has done so.
They reported that this helped the lambs' lungs and other organs to develop just as how it would in their mother's womb. So when their systems matured enough, they were then “delivered” from the bags and put on ventilators. One of these lambs is actually more than a year old now!
“They appear to have normal development in all respects,” says study leader Alan Flake
at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We don’t have an intelligence test for lambs,” he adds, “but we think they’re pretty smart lambs.”
With this, the immediate goal then is to create a version for humans. The plan is to create a new device that would look a bit like an aquarium on which the premature infant is enclosed in a large, clear plastic bag filled with artificial amniotic fluid for the baby to breathe on as it would in the uterus. The umbilical cord is also going to be connected to a machine that increases oxygen and decreases carbon dioxide from the blood. Having about 30,000 pre-term babies born in the US every year on which morbidity and mortality rates are high, this would truly be of big help.
While this is really exciting, the researchers noted that the artificial womb wouldn't replace the real thing. Since this is used to help develop certain organs, the device can't rescue younger fetuses (less than 22 or 23 weeks).
“That’s a Matrix thing,” he says. referring “The whole point of the artificial placenta is to re-create the uterine environment for a period of time and allow the organs to develop to a point where the infant can tolerate postnatal life,” he says.
So, don't expect for humans to be grown in pods, okay? At least not yet!