Artificial Womb Helps Premature Sheep Grow, Could Work For Humans Someday

In case you haven’t noticed, modern technology is capable of some amazing things. We’ve created a real-life Iron Man-style jetpack, a swinging robot that could be the future of farming, and now, it looks like we’ve even hacked the womb.

According to  The Verge, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are developing an artificial womb, and it’s actually been very effective in testing with fetal lambs. The contraption, called the Biobag, has been tested on eight subjects so far, and in the uterus-emulating enclosure, the lambs’ lungs and brains grew, their wool started coming in, and they even learned to open their eyes and swallow. The lambs were born prematurely, and through this method, they’ve been able to continue normal development, as if they never left their natural womb.

The clear plastic bag is filled with an electrolyte solution that functions like placenta, while the umbilical cord is attached to a device that delivers oxygen and nutrients to the blood. The science is incredible, and while the ultimate goal is for this technology to be used in prematurely born human babies to give them a better chance of survival, it’s just not ready yet. More work needs to be done, but fetal surgeon Alan Flake—who is leading the research ( published here)—is optimistic that human trials could begin as soon as three years from now.

“I’m still blown away, whenever I’m down looking at our lambs,” he told The Verge. “I think it’s just an amazing thing to sit there and watch the fetus on this support acting like it normally acts in the womb… It’s a really awe-inspiring endeavor to be able to continue normal gestation outside of the mom.”

Some suggest that artificial wounds could someday be used to grow babies for an entire pregnancy, although Flake calls that idea “complete science fiction.” Do you think this technology will ever reach that level, or are we getting ahead of ourselves? Hit us up on Twitter and let us know what you think!

Featured Image: Dave Herholz/Flickr

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