The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently convened to discuss a topic that was once considered science fiction: the use of artificial wombs to potentially save premature babies. This groundbreaking technology, if successfully tested in humans, could provide a lifeline for babies born extremely prematurely.
An artificial womb is essentially an artificially created environment that mimics the uterus. It resembles a fluid-filled container with lines and tubes connected to the baby’s blood vessels, similar to an umbilical cord, providing nutrients and medications. The idea behind this concept is to allow extremely premature babies, born at less than 28 weeks gestation, to grow and develop as if they were still in the womb.
Currently, neonatologists use incubators for premature babies. These closed capsules filled with air can be heated to help regulate the baby’s temperature. However, they cannot replicate the exact environment of a womb. The development of artificial womb technology represents an exciting first step towards expanding viability and improving outcomes for preterm newborns.
Although this technology has only been tested in animals thus far, experts believe it holds great potential for saving lives. Prematurity is a significant issue in the United States, affecting one in ten babies according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The earlier a baby is born prematurely, the higher the risk of death or complications. Premature birth accounts for 16% of infant deaths and can lead to developmental problems in essential organs such as the lungs, intestines, and brain.
Before human trials can take place with artificial wombs, several ethical considerations need careful examination. First and foremost is the principle of “do no harm.” Neonatologists aim to support life while minimizing pain and suffering during the process. There are concerns about whether using artificial wombs would cause pain or if potential risks outweigh benefits.
Additionally, there may be long-term consequences associated with using an artificial uterus made from materials like plastic that require further study. Furthermore, the introduction of artificial wombs could redefine the notion of a “viable pregnancy” and change when a pregnancy is considered survivable.
Despite these obstacles, experts describe the potential of artificial wombs as revolutionary in the field of neonatology. Premature babies who would not have had the opportunity to grow and develop outside the womb may now have a chance at survival. This technology has the potential to reshape outcomes for premature infants.
It is important to note that before human trials can proceed, extensive research and consideration are required to ensure both safety and ethical standards are met. Nonetheless, this development opens up new possibilities for improving the lives of premature babies and their families.
Source: (ABC News)(https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Wellness/artificial-wombs-tested-human-trials-new-technology/story?id=103356485)