'Artificial Womb' Kept Premature Lambs Alive

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artificial womb containing premature lamb

April 26, 2017 -- An artificial womb kept premature lambs alive for weeks, and this approach might one day improve premature human babies' chances of survival, according to a new study.

The womb resembles a plastic bag and provides the fetus with what it needs to keep growing and maturing, including a nutrient-rich blood supply and amniotic fluid, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Human trials may be possible within a few years, according to the team at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, BBC News reported.

In premature babies, the likelihood of survival is close to zero at less than 23 weeks, 15 percent at 23 weeks, 55 percent at 24 weeks and 80 percent at 25 weeks. The baby lambs in the study were equivalent in age to 23-week-old human infants.

Despite the success in keeping the premature lambs alive, there are a number of challenges with this technique. There is a significant risk of infection and achieving the proper mix of nutrients and hormones to support a human baby will be difficult, BBC News reported.

"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," according to Colin Duncan, professor of reproductive medicine and science at the University of Edinburgh, U.K.

"This will require a lot of additional pre-clinical research and development and this treatment will not enter the clinic any time soon," Duncan said, BBC News reported.