An artificial womb has been successfully used to incubate healthy baby lambs for a period of one week, and researchers hope the technology will one day be able to do the same for extremely premature babies.
The long-standing collaborative Western Australian-based program, involving researchers from the Women and Infants Research Foundation, the University of Western Australia, and Tohoku University Hospital, Japan, has sought to develop an effective treatment strategy for extremely preterm infants born at the border of viability (22-23 weeks).
The research team hypothesised that one means of improving outcomes for this group would be to treat them as a fetus rather than a small infant.
“At its core, our equipment is essentially 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,” Assoc Prof Matt Kemp said.
“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.”
Watch the story as reported by Seven News Perth here.
EVE therapy, and the use of sheep as a model of human pregnancy and the newborn, has been a long-standing research interest of this group.
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.
This work has been supported by grants from the Channel 7 Telethon Trust, the Department of Health, Government of Western Australia, and the Women and Infants Research Foundation.
The research paper can be viewed online at The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.