It has been an interesting week for science. Dr. Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and his team created an artificial womb that can support development and growth for premature babies. Currently it has been tested on premature lambs. The artificial womb is called a bio bag and is kept in a dark and temperature controlled room with the sound of the mother’s heartbeat. The bio bag mimics the mother’s uterus. It contains electrolyte solutions that helps for the premature lamb’s development. It also has an artificial umbilical cord to circulate the blood and exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen. This allows nutrients to flow to the premature lamb and waste to flow out of the bio bag. Approximately after a month, the lambs were able to develop properly with no abnormalities of lungs, brain, heart, liver and kidneys. Right now it has only been tested on premature lambs, but it could be the beginning of the implementation on premature babies in the future.
However, with science, there will be debates and controversies against this. There are many challenges that come with this technology. These include: providing the necessary nutrients to the infants and controlling the environment so that there will not be infections and bacteria growth. Another negative aspect of these artificial wombs are it takes away the emotional interaction and bonding time between mother and infant. Therefore, the questions that arise from this are: is this safe, is it ethically right to put a human infant inside a bag to develop, and more.
Despite the negative aspects of the artificial wombs, it can save a lot of lives. Approximately 1 in 10 infants are born prematurely and about one third of those infants die from premature birth related reasons. Even if the premature baby survives there are many problems that can occur with premature babies. These include: breathing problems, feeding difficulties, development delay, and etc. Therefore, this type of technology can improve and increase the survival of babies who were prematurely born. It can keep them alive and make premature babies become healthier. It is also beneficial for mothers who are at higher risk for miscarriage and/or higher risk for harm due to pregnancy. It creates a safe environment to continue gestation process outside of the womb.
For now, according to Dr. Flake, candidates for an artificial womb would be “infants that would currently not be resuscitated” and those who are born before 23 weeks. Babies who are born after 23 weeks have a great survival chances compared to those are not. Even if it were to be implemented in human infants, it would be three to five years from now. So what are your thoughts on this artificial womb? Personally, I think it has a lot of potential to save premature babies lives, but this should be further tested and experimented before it rolls out.