Despite the myriad of medical breakthroughs we’ve seen in recent decades, premature babies are still a major concern. While the chances today are far better than they were not all that long ago, there is still a great deal of risk for a child born too early. However, one children’s hospital just did something that, if it works as well for humans, might radically change how we deal with things like premature births. From Philly.com:
In a major step toward improving the survival odds for the tiniest premature infants, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia researchers have created an artificial womb — a fluid-filled “BioBag” that kept premature lambs alive and healthy outside their mothers for up to a month.
The animals received oxygen through their umbilical cords and continued to develop much as if they had remained inside their mothers, leading the team to express hope that the procedure could be tried on the youngest human preemies within three to five years.
The authors of the research stressed that they are not trying to enable the delivery of babies earlier than the current limit of viability, generally 22 to 23 weeks of pregnancy.
Instead, their goal is to provide a safe transition to the outside world for those infants, most of whom die under the current standard of care. Those who survive commonly suffer from grave disability, such as chronic lung problems or cognitive impairment.
“It is very clear that they simply are not ready to be here,” said Emily A. Partridge, one of the study’s authors.
There’s still a long way to go before it’s ready to save babies. However, this is an extremely promising breakthrough that could have radical repercussions.
Researchers have been attempting to develop an artificial womb just like this since the 1960s, so it’s easy to imagine how thrilled they are right now.
Not only that, but while the researchers have stated they aren’t looking to enable the delivery of babies prior to that 22- to 23-week mark, that’s not to say further development along those lines won’t be made. If they are, the repercussions on things such as the abortion debate may radically shift. After all, if a woman doesn’t want to carry a baby, there’s an alternative to abortion that doesn’t result in termination of the fetus.
Of course, right now, the key thing is that premature babies who might otherwise die or have lifelong problems as a result of their birth circumstances may soon become a thing of the past. Instead, babies who would have otherwise been at risk will have a chance to grow up big, strong, and healthy.