Keeping extremely premature babies alive is understandably difficult. Modern neonatal intensive care technology simply doesn’t replicate the womb, essentially working to help the child survive on its own. Researchers at University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Extracorporeal Circulation Research Laboratory have developed an “artificial placenta” that performs extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), avoiding the necessity of the child having to breathe through its poorly developed lungs that often can’t handle mechanical ventilation. ECMO is already used for post-op children and adults with cardiac and respiratory failure, but its successful application for extreme prematurity would be a new development.
The technology was recently tried on five very premature lambs, which were successfully kept alive for a week using the new artificial placenta. The next steps will involve getting lambs from birth to a more developed stage to see how well they fare in the long run. Following that we may see clinical trials begin with human babies.
Here’s a University of Michigan video report about the artificial placenta:
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