When critically preterm babies are born at the lowest limit of viability, the development of their lungs and other vital organs is traumatically interrupted. Current standard treatment calls for preemies to be placed in incubators, attached to lung ventilators, and continually monitored as they desperately struggle to finish the systemic development meant to be completed in the womb.
Emily Partridge, a research fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says when babies are born at 24 weeks’ gestation, “it is very clear they are not ready to be here”. Her research team has now developed a process allowing prematurely born lambs to continue normal growth in an entirely artificial environment.
The researchers chose to experiment with lambs because of their remarkable similarity to human babies. C-sections were performed on eight sheep mothers and each of the fetuses were placed in what amounts to a big Ziploc plastic bag, called a Biobag.
The Biobags were filled with a lab-created amniotic fluid which circulated continuously around the lambs. The lambs’ umbilical cords delivered oxygen and nutrients from the surrounding fluid, enabling their lungs, brains, and other critical organs to develop without interruption.
It turns out the baby lambs not only survived, they thrived. They developed at normal rates and even grew wool. When introduced to the outside world after a month in their individual Biobags, they were ready to deal with life outside the womb.
A great deal of research and development still needs to be accomplished. However, within the next decade it seems certain that a critically premature baby will be provided with the same life-saving bridge between her mother’s womb and the great outdoors.
Let me know what you think! Thaïs
The video below has nothing to do with the story above, but it is so darn cute, and it is of a lamb, so we had to share it!
Read the complete article from The Atlantic Magazine here.