The pioneering field of artificial womb technology experienced a major breakthrough this week. A recently published study in The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology presented an artificial womb's capability to support extremely premature lamb fetuses—equivalent to supporting a human fetus at about 24 weeks of gestation.
"For several decades there has been little improvement in outcomes of extremely preterm infants born at the border of viability (21-24 weeks gestation)," senior author Matthew Kemp, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement. "In the AJOG study, we have proven the use of this technology to support, for the first time, extremely preterm lambs equivalent to 24 weeks of human gestation in a stable, growth-normal state for five days.
"This result underscores the potential clinical application of this technology for extremely preterm infants born at the border of viability. In the world of artificial placenta technology, we have effectively broken the 4 minute mile."
Prior to this study, researchers were unable to use artificial wombs to support severely premature newborns, which Professor Kemp describes as "a unique patient demographic that, due to their extremely underdeveloped lungs and limited cardiovascular capacity, require an entirely different treatment approach from older preterm infants.”
The revolutionary technology will give extremely premature babies the opportunity to develop and mature ex-vivo.
"With additional refinement, what today might be considered as futuristic technology might soon not be so futuristic and might be standard of care."