It must have been over 20 years ago that I read about scientists in Japan who had worked on creating an “artificial womb” in order to bear children. I distinctly remember the author saying its practical use would take another ten years. I have since learned that in science saying “ten years” is like saying, “We don’t have the foggiest idea how long it will take!” In the case of the artificial womb it has obviously taken longer – yet progress has been made.
According to an abstract in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, artificial womb experimentation was reported on at the 64th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Reproductive Investigation, Orlando, FL, March 15-18, 2017, and the 69th Annual Congress of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Hiroshima, Japan, April 13-16, 2017. In a paper entitled, “Successful maintenance of key physiological parameters in preterm lambs treated with ex vivo uterine environment therapy for a period of 1 week,” researchers reported that they removed six fetal lambs by C-section from ewes at 112-115 days of gestation. The average lamb gestation period is 147 days (for humans it is about 280 days). For one week, five of the six fetal lambs were sustained in the artificial womb and then euthanized.
In the April 25, 2017, online article in Nature entitled, “An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb,” researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stated that they were able to sustain fetal lambs up to four weeks in an artificial womb. In the Philadelphia experiment eight lambs were delivered by C-section. Five were at 105-108 days of gestation, and three were at 115-120 days of gestation. According to the Nature article, animal protocol limitations required the experiment to end after 28 days. The lambs were removed to artificial ventilation. One is reportedly still alive a year after the experiment.
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