In a world-first, scientists have demonstrated the ability of an 'artificial womb' to support extremely premature lamb foetuses, an advance that may one day save human infants.
The research, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, shows that an artificial placenta-based life support platform can maintain lamb foetuses weighing 600 to 700 grammes -- equivalent to a human foetus at 24 weeks of gestation.
While previous research had demonstrated the feasibility of extended survival with artificial placenta technology in late preterm foetuses, there was no published evidence that demonstrated the use of the platform to support extremely preterm foetuses -- the eventual clinical target of this technology.
"For several decades there has been little improvement in outcomes of extremely preterm infants born at the border of viability (21-24 weeks gestation)," said Matt Kemp, Associate Professor at Tohoku University in Japan.
"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, said Kemp.
"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," he added.
The findings represent a significant milestone in the technology's future implementation into clinical use.
"The technology was designed to revolutionise the treatment of severely premature newborns. The goal is to offer a bridge between a natural womb and the outside world to give babies born at the earliest gestational ages more time for their fragile lungs to mature," Kemp said.
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