This Amazing Breakthrough Could Help Preemies Survive

This incredible invention may help babies born prematurely survive by replicating the effect of remaining in the womb.

Scientists Create 'Artificial Womb' for Premature Babies

Babies born prematurely literally fight for their lives—without the protective surroundings of a mother's womb, these babies may not survive or they may develop lifelong health issues.

But while we haven't yet found a foolproof way to stop babies from being born prematurely, researchers may be on track to replicate the effect of remaining in the womb after a baby is born. A team from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is working to create an artificial womb in which preemies can remain—and the development shows promise.

This invention will essentially be a container that holds liquid that mimics amniotic fluid. Infants will be placed inside and put in contact with mechanical placenta to keep blood oxygenated.

The study on this topic was published in Nature Communications, and the invention is currently being tested on animals. Because fetal lambs are developmentally comparable to premature infants, experts are studying the effectiveness of the invention on them. Based on what they've observed, it appears this method might be an effective way to keep preemies growing and developing "in the womb" for an additional three to four weeks. 

This idea came from a change in thinking among experts: They decided the key to dealing with prematurity may involve treating premature infants as fetuses as opposed to newborns. 

"Our system is really a recreation of the environment that a fetus normally resides in," Emily Partridge, MD, PhD, said in a video detailing this work. "We believe that the animal data that we have reported in this manuscript really supports translating our system into a clinical therapy for human babies."

Researchers still have more work to do—and it will likely be a few years before human trials begin. But if all goes well, this device could bring hope that in the future, we can keep preemies safe and healthy.