Mary had a Preemie Lamb
You all know the American tale from the 19th century of Mary, the lamb enthusiast, whose lamb followed her everywhere. But has anyone asked, exactly where did Mary get the lamb? Was she a farmer’s daughter or did she secretly have access to a 2017 lab with preemie lambs?
If she had access to the labs at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, she may have picked up one of the prematurely born lambs that were developed in an artificial womb until they were “born” four weeks later. The researchers placed eight lambs that were 105 to 115 days old into a bag of sorts and mimicked the conditions of the womb. The bags were heated, had the umbilical hooked up to an oxygenator that acted as a placenta, and were suspended in artificial amniotic fluid. During the days until birth, the lambs’ brains were able to develop (and normally at that), they opened their sweet lamby eyes, gained weight, and grew white coats.
But the point of this study was not to perform a cool trick, but rather to potentially move the trial to humans, giving premature babies a better shot at life. Premature babies have a very high mortality rate and of the babies that survive, many of them have health complications. The healthcare professionals hope to use artificial wombs to help bridge the gap between a premature baby being born and when it has developed the faculties to give it a fighting chance against the big bad world. In the coming future, babies born between weeks 23 and 25, those with the toughest go at life, may be placed into an artificial womb that looks similar to an incubator, and possibly have the mother's heartbeat programed in as well. After a few weeks, the babies will be born again.
They are hoping to do clinical trials on humans in a few years and, hopefully, the present premature baby mortality rate will be just a like Mary, a story of the past.