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expert reaction to supporting premature lambs in an external artificial womb

In a new study, published in Nature Communications, scientists created an artificial womb which kept lambs born at the equivalent of 23 weeks gestation, alive.


Prof. Colin Duncan, Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This research isn’t about replacing the womb in the first half of pregnancy. It is about the development of new ways of treating extremely premature babies.

“The researchers supported the growth and development of extremely premature fetuses within a bag of fluid where the fetus pumps its own blood through an artificial placenta.

“This is a really attractive concept and this study is a very important step forward. There are still huge challenges to refine the technique, to make good results more consistent and eventually to compare outcomes with current neonatal intensive care strategies.

“This will require is a lot of additional preclinical research and development and this treatment will not enter the clinic anytime soon. The use of steroid injections for women at risk of delivering a premature baby to help accelerate fetal lung development was discovered using sheep models. It has improved the survival of premature babies worldwide and made a huge impact on obstetric and neonatal practice. That treatment took well over 20 years to get into clinical practice.”


* ‘An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb’ by Emily Partridge et al. will be published in Nature Communications on Tuesday 25th April. 


Declared interests

None declared

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