The foetal lambs grew in a temperature-controlled, near- sterile environment, breathing amniotic fluid as they normally would do in the womb, their hearts pumping blood through their umbilical cord into a gas exchange machine outside the bag.
Premature infants weighing as little as a pound are hooked to ventilators and other machines inside incubators, so their lungs can more fully develop.
The plastic "biobag" womb is filled with filled with an electrolyte solution which acts like amniotic fluid in the uterus.
In early-stage testing, conducted on lambs, they found that extremely premature lambs grew apparently regularly, inside of the container for about three to four weeks.
Although the technology has only been tested on sheep, researchers hope it could become a lifesaver for many premature human babies in just a few years.
The eight fetal lambs who were tested in the device showed normal development.
"They appear to have normal development in all respects", said Dr Flake as one of the survivors reached a year old.
The whole system is created to closely mimic nature and buy the tiniest newborns a few weeks to develop their lungs and other organs. Those that do survive are at a 90% risk of morbidity and severe illnesses such as lung disease, cerebral palsy and complications caused by underdeveloped organs. The environment of each artificial womballowed all of the lamb fetuses to survive and thrive.
Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University, doesn't like the idea of using the artificial wombs on humans at all. It was developed at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for the much more admirable objective of keeping premature babies alive and healthy.
The device is simpler than previous attempts at creating an artificial womb, which have not yet panned out.
The age of the lambs and lung development phases equated to 22- to 24-week-old human infants. One of the surviving lambs now lives a healthy life on a farm in Pennsylvania. The team is talking to the F-D-A, in hopes of starting human trials in a year or two.
Flake stressed that the womb-like system is not meant to support premies any younger than today's limits of viability - not what he calls the more "sensationalistic" idea of artificially growing embryos. It could also reduce the estimated $43 billion hospitals spend on premature infant care annually.
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