Doctors at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia recently announced the creation of a “bio-bag”, a synthetic device that is capable of sustaining premature fetal lambs shortly after they begin development.
The physicians are hopeful that this medical technology can be developed further to eventually be used on humans, to imitate a woman’s uterus in order to limit infant mortality and diseases in children born prematurely. Currently, premature birth is the leading cause of death for newborns in the United States.
How Does This Development Work?
Eight lambs were part of the research trial. Each was placed in their own artificial womb only 105 days after they began development- a timeframe equivalent to approximately 22 weeks of human development. At that stage, the lambs would not be able to survive outside of the womb on their own.
The lambs were then kept in the artificial womb for a month, during which their lungs developed, they grew hair, and reached a stage where they would be able to survive independently.
All eight lambs developed normally and each survived. The trial established that the biobag could mimic the natural conditions in a uterus, and marks the first step towards the creation of a device that could save the lives of human children.
Current Procedures for Premature Births
Babies are generally considered premature where they are born before the 37-week mark of development. Before that stage, the brains and lungs of these “preemies” are still in the early stages of growth, making infants who are born prematurely vulnerable to a host of chronic health conditions that are likely to affect them for their lifetimes.
There are circumstances where the brain damage to a preemie was caused by negligence. For example, there are circumstances where an obstetrician can reduce the risks associated with premature birth. As another example, mismanagement by nurses in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or a pediatrician can also result in brain damage if they are not cared for/and or monitored properly.
Currently, babies born prematurely remain in the hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where they are placed in incubators. Preemies may be hooked up to a wide array of equipment including endotracheal tubes, ventilators, continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP), and/or oxygen hoods. Premature infants will be fed using one or a number of methods including intravenous lines, umbilical catheters, oral and nasal feeding, and/or central lines (PICC lines).
How Will the New Technology Help Humans?
An artificial womb would be a significant development over an incubator as it would allow preemies to complete their development in an environment that mimics natural conditions.
An artificial womb would not allow an infant born prematurely to develop for the entire nine month period, but it would allow physicians to incubate infants born extremely prematurely.
Based on these recent developments, experts have predicted that artificial wombs may be a reality in the next few decades.
We will continue to follow developments in this technology and will provide updates as they become available.
The lawyers at Sommers Roth & Elmaleh have significant experience representing families of injured children in obstetric malpractice claims, including claims filed by parents whose preemies have been injured by medical error or negligence. For more than 40 years, we have secured multi-million dollar awards for our clients that pay for their child’s lifetime care, therapies, equipment, medical supplies, and other expenses. We offer compassionate, skilled, and knowledgeable guidance on all aspects of obstetric malpractice claims. Contact us online or call us at 1-416-961-1212 for a free consultation.
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