Premature infants: Could artificial placentas be the treatment of the future?
Unfortunately, the risk of death or long-term disability for human infants born before 24 weeks gestation is high. Their lungs just aren’t developed enough at that point to be able to breathe effectively. But new research, developed with the help of lambs, could be a game-changer!
Researchers decided that since premature infants were not well-suited for life outside the womb, they would attempt to ‘re-create’ the intrauterine environment. They developed an artificial placenta that simulates this environment, providing gas exchange without requiring the infant to use lungs to breathe.
This artificial placenta was able to keep premature lambs alive for a week, and over the next five years, researchers hope to extend on this study to show that extremely premature lambs can be successfully nurtured to a normal newborn state. If this is possible, the hope is that human infants will eventually benefit from this research. It would be incredible if an artificial placenta could help premature infants get through the most critical early days and weeks to improve survival rates and long-term outcomes.