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Artificial ‘Biobag’ Womb For Premature Newborns Now Being Tested

First Posted: Apr 27, 2017 05:47 AM EDT

Any student in the medical field (or avid fans of Grey's Anatomy) know that infants born extremely prematurely rarely live more than a few hours. Extremely premature infants face a slew of health issues that came from having underdeveloped organs.

Doctors have tried to mimic the complex environment in a mother's womb, but to no avail. However, according to ABC News, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia revealed a new device that could save the lives of these premature infants. The device acts as an artificial womb, and a "biobag" mimics the natural uterus that allows the development of a fetus.

Dr. Alan W. Flake, a fetal surgeon at the Center for Fetal Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a statement that "Infants have an urgent need for a bridge between the mother's womb and the outside world." He also said that if there is a way to develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and maturation of an organ, doctors can dramatically improve the outcomes for extremely premature babies.

Infants born between 23 and 25 weeks have a low chance of survival, due in part of their underdeveloped lungs, liver, kidney and brain. All of these organs will have to start working months earlier than what is normal. Also, although they technically work, they are at a stage where they are still very immature. Neonatal intensive care doctors will have to support their growth with as little harm as possible, which is not always ideal considering the environment in a mother's womb is very different to that of an incubator.

The study, published in Nature Communications, is set to develop organs with a system incorporating a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus. It is maintained within a closed "amniotic fluid" circuit that almost reproduces the womb environment. Today, the device is still being tested on animals. But if successful, the "biobag" could support a human infant for up to four weeks.

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