Development of Artificial Wombs

Hello all! This week, I didn’t know what I was going to write about, my mind has been focused on maths A.S. exams! Whilst looking around on the Vet Times website, I stumbled across something I found very interesting… Lambs being grown in artificial wombs! Naturally, I had to post about this.

We all know lambs as cute little animals who jump around their field happy as larry. However, like humans many are born with conditions that prevent them from being happy stereotypes, including being born premature.

The study that ‘grew’ lambs in artificial wombs, however, was part of the animal trials for testing the womb prototype on humans.

Firstly, the lambs participating in the study were removed from their mothers by cesarean section when they were 4 to 6 weeks away from complete gestation (21 weeks). It is believed that this level of gestation is equivalent to human babies being born at 23/24 weeks; extreme premature infants. The lambs were then ‘grown’ and monitored in a special ‘biobag’ for four weeks.

Picture credit: The children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The lambs were inside what the researchers called biobags. These were sealed, fluid-filled plastic bags. An oxygenator circuit was connected to the sheep foetus, the foetus maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit. The foetus’ heart drove circulation, keeping blood pressure and other markers at normal levels.

The lambs were seen to maintain stable haemodynamics and patency of foetal circulation, as well as having normal oxygenation and blood gas parameters. Appropriate nutritional support was given, resulting in the demonstration of lung maturation, brain growth, normal somatic growth and myelination.

After 3-4 weeks, the foetuses were said to be normally developed and were removed from the biobags. Many were then euthanised and further studied, although some were bottle-weaned. The oldest lamb of this kind is 1 year old.

Although these are the animal trials designed to help the development of assistance for premature human babies, I believe that this advancement could also help the farming community, who do lose some lambs every year to the sheep self-aborting, and hence lose money. If these ‘bags’ can be developed quite cheaply, this may provide a solution to the problem.

However, personally I am not comfortable with the use of animals in clinical trials for human development. Is it fair that lambs should be born prematurely by c-section, to survive for four more weeks, only to be euthanised? Or is this a necessary step for advancement of science? Feel free to leave your thoughts as a comment on this post.



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