A breakthrough in the medical industry comes to us this month in the form of the Biobag – an artificial womb that’s used to grow extremely premature lambs. For the first time ever, scientists successfully supported fetal lambs until around the same stage a human fetus would be at around 23 weeks.
The Biobag is essentially a translucent, polyethylene bag-like structure that’s filled with amniotic fluid and is what kept the fetus’ alive for the four week period. If the same technique is applied to humans it could help tremendously when it comes to treating one of the more complex causes of infant mortality – extreme premature birth.
Premature birth is the leading cause of death for children under the age of five. Treatment for extreme cases is very high risk and complex and often leave those that do survive with lifelong complications to deal with. If these babies had more time in the womb, perhaps they would survive. The biobag could do that.
Lead author of the study and fetal surgeon Alan Flake, said, “I don’t want this to be visualized as humans hanging on the walls in bags.” This is not how this device will work or look.” Flake is hoping that this technology will eventually be used to lower the amount of human premature deaths by providing a more viable solution than anything else out there.
“If we can support growth and organ mutation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies,” Flake commented. The oldest lamb grown in the Bioboag is now over one year old and appears healthy. Of course, there is still a way to go before Biobag will be hitting our hospitals anytime soon, but there is hope that one day soon it could be a viable option.
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