Imagine a device that could help premature human babies live outside the uterus. To some, it may seem unnatural and inhumane. While others may find it appealing to live in a world where artificial wombs grow babies, which would, in turn, eliminate health risks of pregnancy. Alan flake, furthermore, the fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has been trying to create this device.
Flake, however, states that “It’s complete science fiction to think that you can take an embryo and get it through the early developmental process and put it on our machine without the mother being the critical element there.” Flake and his team instead want to create an artificial womb in order to give babies born too early a “natural” uterus-like environment to continue developing. Flake, as a result, has called this artificial uterus the Biobag.
The Biobag has been successfully tested with fetal lambs. Inside these artificial wombs, baby sheep developed lungs, brains, grew wool, opened their eyes, moved around, and learned how to swallow in over four weeks. Although the Biobag does not look identical to a womb, it does contain the same essential parts. The Biobag consists of a clear plastic bag where the fetal lambs are protected from the outside world. Inside the plastic bag, lambs are covered in a fluid and can exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen.
Flake and his colleagues hope the Biobag will completely improve the life expectancy for extremely premature infants. Prematurity is the leading cause of death for newborns in the US. About ten percent of babies are born prematurely and are not able to survive outside of the womb.
Flake, of course, acknowledges that lambs aren’t humans and that their brains develop at a different pace. In order for the device to be used on human babies, therefore, more research about the science and safety of this device will be required. Alan Flake believes that “it is realistic to think about three years for first-in-human trials.” Although it is true that these artificial wombs will greatly prevent the death rates caused by prematurity, we should consider what the human race could become if these inventions continue to develop leading to the creation of a full artificial womb one day…