Researchers have successfully used an artificial womb to incubate premature lambs, with experts saying the technology may one day be used for extremely premature babies.
In a paper published this week in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers affiliated with the University of Western Australia (UWA) report that they have incubated premature baby lambs in a uterus-like environment for seven days, allowing the lambs to grow without the adverse effects of a preterm birth.
The researchers call their technique ex-vivo uterine environment (EVE) therapy, and it involves placing the infant specimen in a high-tech amniotic fluid bath with an artificial placenta that allows for gas exchange and nutrient delivery.
“By providing an alternative means of gas exchange for the fetus, we hoped to spare the extremely preterm cardiopulmonary system from ventilation-derived injury, and save the lives of those babies whose lungs are too immature to breathe properly”, UWA Associate Professor Matt Kemp said. “...Although significant development is required, a life support system based around EVE therapy may provide an avenue to improve outcomes for extremely preterm infants”, he said.
The study comes in the wake of research published earlier this year by the Center for Fetal Research in Philadelphia. In that study, researchers developed a womb-like environment in which premature lambs lived for over four weeks before being delivered.
The idea of artificial wombs raising interesting bioethical questions about the morality of abortion and the ethics of ectogenesis, or pregnancy outside the womb.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
In a recent article in the American Journal of Bioethics, bioethicist Art Caplan and three colleagues call for a complete overhaul of the venerable Belmont Report (see below). This is the 1979 US government report which set out three famous principles which have governed human research ever since: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.
Most government reports are already gathering dust within a few months after their publication. But the Belmont Report’s influence has been enormous, as it shaped the bioethical framework for clinical and research decision-making in the US and many other countries as well.
Caplan & Co make a good case for revising the standards in the light of experience and changing times. But it comes at an awkward moment: the Trump Presidency. What kind of commission would Mr Trump create to study this issue? Perhaps a noisy and truculent one, a bull in the bioethics china shop. Be careful what you wish for?
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