Barcelona Researchers Develop Artificial Womb for Premature Babies
BARCELONA, June 29 (Reuters) - In a groundbreaking endeavor, researchers in Barcelona have unveiled their latest innovation—a remarkable artificial womb designed to sustain the lives of extremely premature babies. The prototype, which has successfully kept animal foetuses alive for up to 12 days, aims to recreate a nurturing environment that mimics the conditions of a mother's womb.
The cutting-edge artificial placenta, developed by a team of 35 experts at BCNatal medical research center, comprises a translucent container made of biocompatible material. Within this protective enclosure, the delicate organs of the foetus, including the lungs, intestines, and brain, can continue to grow and develop.
The artificial womb is seamlessly integrated with a circulation system that facilitates the flow of amniotic fluid. This system not only keeps the foetus isolated from external stimuli but also enables ultrasound monitoring and controls.
Premature birth, particularly before the completion of six months of pregnancy, poses a significant risk to both the child's survival and long-term well-being. Shockingly, recent statistics from the World Health Organization indicate that approximately 900,000 babies died worldwide in 2019 due to extreme prematurity.
Lead researcher Eduard Gratacos emphasized the team's dedication to creating an environment that closely resembles the natural conditions experienced by the foetus. "We try to develop a system that allows us to keep a foetus outside its mother but still in the foetal conditions: that it continues to breathe through the umbilical cord ... that we can feed it through the umbilical cord, that it lives surrounded by fluid at a constant temperature," Gratacos explained in an interview with Reuters.
Before proceeding to human trials in the coming years, the team has conducted extensive pre-clinical studies involving lamb foetuses. Encouragingly, the experiments resulted in a remarkable 12-day survival rate. Furthermore, the researchers plan to test their artificial womb with pigs as well, further refining the technology and ensuring its efficacy across different species.
Gratacos acknowledged the complexity of the project, requiring interdisciplinary collaboration and the involvement of various medical specialties and engineers. "It's a challenge, it's extremely delicate to achieve this, to trick nature to make this possible," he admitted.
While this endeavor in Barcelona is an exciting advancement in the field of neonatal care, experts stress the need for rigorous clinical trials on humans to evaluate the safety and potential side effects. Kelly Werner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, highlighted the importance of maintaining maternal health and minimizing risk factors that contribute to preterm birth, even with the advent of artificial placenta technology.
Transforming Neonatal Care and Saving Lives
The Barcelona researchers' pioneering work in developing an artificial womb has opened up new possibilities for the care of premature babies. With their innovative prototype, they aim to bridge the gap between the fragility of early-stage life and the nurturing environment of a mother's womb. This breakthrough brings hope for the countless families affected by premature births, reducing the risk of mortality and long-term complications associated with extreme prematurity.
As the Barcelona team prepares for future human trials, medical professionals and experts worldwide eagerly await the results, hoping that this novel technology will soon revolutionize neonatal care and provide a lifeline for vulnerable infants fighting to survive their earliest days.
Revolutionizing Surrogacy and Enhancing Reproductive Options
Beyond its potential impact on premature babies, the development of an artificial womb holds significant implications for the field of surrogacy. Surrogacy is a reproductive option for individuals and couples unable to conceive naturally or carry a pregnancy to term. The artificial placenta's ability to sustain the growth and development of embryos outside the mother's body could revolutionize the surrogacy process, providing a safer and more controlled environment for the developing fetus. While further research and ethical considerations are necessary, this breakthrough in artificial womb technology offers hope for individuals and couples seeking alternative paths to parenthood through surrogacy.