In America, a group of doctors took on the challenge of creating their own external womb to act like that of a mother’s uterus.
Over four weeks, the study used a collection of lambs and grew them inside artificial wombs with the results showing normal development, raising the question of whether humans could be next.
To the outside world, the bags in which these lambs inhabited seemed to be much like an oversized ziplock bag. However, it was inside these magical bags that each lamb began to grow much like they would have done in utero.
It began with the formation of lungs and brains, then wool began to sprout, eyes opened, they began to move freely and then finally learned to swallow.
The first steps towards an artificial womb…
Just think of how females would rejoice at the thought of not being restricted for 9 months by the side effects of pregnancy; from the mood swings, to weird food cravings, having to stop working and not to mention the pressure inflicted on the female form in order to carry a child to term. Moreover, health risks for both mother and child would be eliminated altogether as in an artificial womb all elements would be controlled.
Sadly, an artificial womb is not yet able to fully replicate a human uterus. According to the leading fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and research leader, Alan Flake, “It’s complete science fiction to think that you can take an embryo and get it through the early developmental process and put it on our machine without the mother being the critical element there.”
In saying this, the development of what the team has deemed the “Biobag” could change the way premature babies are cared for, by creating an environment similar to a mother’s womb. This would – theoretically – increase life expectancy as currently in Australia, premature birth is the leading cause of death in newborns.
It is too early to say if these Biobags could be used on humans, but their potential cannot be denied. If Flake and his team can continue to develop their design, taking into account factors such as managing the right amount of blood flow, how to make sure there is no risk of infection and that waste is properly removed, they could hold the key to reducing infant mortality.
Though human trials are yet to be on the cards, Flake hopes that, “I think it’s realistic to think about three years.”
So while mothers and the magic that is a women’s uterus won’t become redundant, creating a secure space for premature babies to continue to develop and grow looks to be an element of the near future.