Human artificial wombs would enable premature baby survival at 14th week instead of 24th week of gestation

Journal of Reproductive Science – The artificial womb

The availability of computer-controlled artificial hearts, kidneys, and lungs, as well as the possibility of implanting
human embryos in ex vivo uterus models or an artificial endometrium, presents new perspectives for creating an artificial uterus. Survival rates have also improved, with fetuses surviving from as early as 24 weeks of gestation. These advances bring new opportunities for complete or partial ectogenesis through the creation of an artificial womb, one that could sustain the growth and development of fetuses outside of the human body.

Liquid ventilation constitutes the next important step in the treatments of premature infants. In 1989, the first human studies offering liquid ventilation to infants, with no chance for survival through conventional therapy, were performed. The results were promising and larger trials are now under way. Recently, a fluorocarbon liquid was developed that has the capacity to carry a large amount of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide. By inserting liquid into the lung, Shaffer and his colleagues argue, the lung sacs can be expanded at a much lower pressure. Thus, the development of liquid breathing could serve as an intermediate stage between the womb and breathing in open air. In conclusion, we foresee that partial ectogenesis—the growth and development of fetuses between 14 and 35 weeks of pregnancy—is within reach given our current knowledge and existing technical tools.

For a human to develop entirely outside of a human body, both a synthetic uterus and a synthetic amniotic environment will be necessary. Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, director of the Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at Weill Cornell Medical College in NY, researches embryo implantation in an effort to improve IVF efficiency. In her pursuit to help women, who otherwise couldn’t conceive, she has experimented with engineering a synthetic uterus. Using a technique she developed called co-culture in which both an embryo and uterine tissue are grown together in culture.

In 2003, Helen Hung-Ching Liu and her team succeeded in growing a mouse embryo, almost to full term, by adding engineered endometrium tissue to a bio-engineered, extra-uterine “scaffold.” More recently, she grew a human embryo, for ten days in an artificial womb. Her work is limited by legislation that imposes a 14-day limit on research project of this nature. As complicated as it is, her goal is a functioning external womb. The embryos would not be able to survive and develop indefinitely in a synthetic uterus without an amniotic environment.

Mice and sharks have been grown in artificial uteruses

Recent research provides evidence to suggest that improving technology may advance toward the goal of artificial wombs:

our model of extracorporeal perfusion of the human uterus that allows for embryo implantation that is operational for up to 52 hours;

* work by Hung-Ching Liu at Cornell University, permitting the development of an artificial human uterus using endometrial cells grown over a uterus-shaped scaffolding (the scaffolding dissolves as cells grow and form novel uterine tissue);

* the experiments conducted by Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University supporting developing goats with an artificial placenta and uterus

In theory, liquid breathing could assist in the treatment of patients with severe pulmonary or cardiac trauma, especially in pediatric cases. Liquid breathing has also been proposed for use in deep diving and space travel. Despite some recent advances in liquid ventilation, a standard mode of application has not been established yet.

The legal issues of artificial wombs are discussed here in a 31 page paper.

SOURCES – Journal of Reproductive Science, Chicago Kent Law Review, rhrealitycheck, Wikibooks, wikipedia

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