In a perfect world, all babies would be carried safely to full term but we all know that isn’t the case. In fact, extreme prematurity (defined by a birth occurring earlier than 28 weeks) is one of the leading causes of infant death in the United States. Science has come a long way in helping these tiny warriors fight the good fight, but in many of these cases what these little babes really need is more time cookin’ in Mama’s belly.
Enter the artificial womb.
Or, as the fancy science folks who came up with it like to say, “An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb.”
Yep. That’s the hitch. In its current iteration, it has only been used exclusively on Mary and her extremely premature little lambs.
But it has worked.
With this system, scientists were able to sustain life and normal growth in a lamb fetus for up to four weeks, using a special bag with an interface that connected to the umbilicus of the fetus. What’s more, at the end of the experiment, lambs that received appropriate nutritional support showed “normal somatic (body) growth, lung maturation and brain growth and myelination.” Now I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but this seems like steps in the right direction in regards to building a baby. Normal, in this case, is outstanding.
Four weeks might not seem like much in a 40-week gestation period, but to anyone who has gone through the trauma and uncertainty of a preterm labor, four weeks is an eternity. Hopefully it doesn’t take an eternity for this kind of technology to start saving the lives of the littlest fighters who need some extra time to develop.