In a bid to decrease premature infant mortality, scientists have now possibly found a solution. Earlier this week, a group of scientists and doctors met with the FDA chiefs to suggest the possibility of developing an artificial womb. Their decision comes after the alarming rate of premature infant deaths which stands at 16% of all the deaths. It is not only a personal loss for the family but also a failure for the women’s healthcare system in general. Taking into account the emotional, financial, and social burden the mother may undergo when she loses the child, the group decided to come up with an alternative that works. The two-day event began with an open forum for a selected set of people to share their worries and the second day included a private meeting to discuss the data gathered from the day before.
An artificial womb is nothing like a mother’s womb nor is it a way for childless parents/individuals to help grow a baby. The idea is only limited to saving the lives of prematurely born infants who usually have underdeveloped body organs which make their chance to survive lean. Children who are born before completing 37 weeks inside the uterus are generally considered premature. Every year nearly 1 Million deaths are attributed to premature births and is seen as a serious fault when it comes to OB-GYN. Currently, when a child is born premature, the protocol includes shifting them to a specially prepared chamber in the NICU and after a while encouraging skin-to-skin contact. However, what does the future have in store for them?
It is estimated that about 70 % of babies born after 34 weeks survive without any neurodevelopmental damage while the rest are prone to complications. A premature baby could have underdeveloped lungs which limit their breathing ability. Unlike the other infants, these babies have serious food consumption issues which further escalates the risk. In some cases, it has also been observed that they are vulnerable to jaundice, temperature regulatory issues, and Bradycardia affecting their hearts. Even if they survive they are to be closely monitored to ensure they have no birth defects or neurodevelopmental damages they are highly prone to.
Though premature infant deaths have been a growing concern all over the world, this is the first time when something of this stature has been suggested, So is the artificial chamber a far-fetched dream? It has earlier been used to bring a lamb to development in 2017. The experiment was conducted in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the lamb went on to survive for over 20 days. In an expansion of the idea, they increased the number of lambs to 300 to get a comprehensive model of its working.
Not only was the premature lamb placed in a sterilized bag with fluid, but also got regular supplies of amniotic fluid, medicine, and oxygen which mimicked the conditions inside a uterus. All of this was not injected but made available to them via umbilical cord in a way simulating it would have been if they were inside their mother’s uterus. While this certainly brightens the prospect, its implications on humans are still largely unknown.
The committee is also hopeful that the group will further study the way the womb would impact human babies and fine-tune the details including how old should they be, what fluid should they be kept in, and how long will it take for them to recover. Since the mortality rate among premature babies is higher in colored mothers, the sample size used for the study would highlight the same and get a result as accurate as possible.
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