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Artificial Wombs Will Soon Revolutionize our Approach to Pregnancy and Child Birth

Artificial Wombs Will Soon Revolutionize our Approach to
Pregnancy and Child Birth

By Stella Law

TP 201906 future 02If things continue to progress at the current pace, the day is probably not too far when scientists will be able to grow human embryos in a laboratory using sophisticated artificial wombs. When this biotechnological breakthrough finally arrives, it is expected to completely alter the nature of human reproduction.

 

Work is already in progress on several fronts across the world. For example, it鈥檚 been about three years since a team at the Children鈥檚 Hospital of Philadelphia confirmed a breakthrough in their pursuit for the technology. The team then announced that they had successfully developed a 鈥渂iobag鈥 that helps improve the survival rate of premature babies.

TP 201906 future 03

Left: A lamb at 107 days of gestation and on day four of support. Right: The same lamb on day 28 of support, illustrating growth and maturation.

TP 201906 future 08 The lambs were kept inside plastic bags serving as an artificial womb

The lambs were kept inside plastic bags serving as an artificial womb

 

It was indeed a big achievement -- one that was widely acclaimed to be a significant leap forward from the conventional incubators that have been in use for decades now. The team behind this accomplishment demonstrated the technology by keeping lambs alive in the biobag. The subjects used in the project were equivalent in nature to the premature human foetus of 22 to 24 weeks.

 

Meanwhile, another research team at Cambridge University made it to the headlines by keeping an embryo alive for 13 days. The team accomplished this feat by creating a certain composition of vital nutrients that simulates the exact conditions that keep unborn babies alive in the womb. Theoretically, these scientists could have further extended the 13-day milestone had it not been for the legal factors that prevented an embryo from being kept at a lab for more than 14 days.

TP 201906 future 04

An artificial womb could help keep babies born severely premature alive.

 

搴旂敤浜洪犲瓙瀹煿鑲蹭汉绫昏儦鑳庣殑鐮旂┒鍦ㄤ笘鐣屽悇鍦板彇寰楄繘灞曘傝垂鍩庡効绔ュ尰闄㈠凡鎴愬姛鐮斿彂鈥滅敓鍛戒箣琚嬧濓紝鏈夊姪浜庢彁楂樻棭浜у効瀛樻椿鐜囥傝鐮旂┒鎴愭灉琚獕涓哄ぇ骞呰秴瓒婁簡浼犵粺鍗靛寲鍣ㄣ備笌姝ゅ悓鏃讹紝鍓戞ˉ澶у瀹屾垚閫氳繃鍒涢犻噸瑕佽惀鍏绘垚鍒嗕互纭繚鑳氳儙鍦ㄥ瓙瀹瓨娲13澶╃殑澹妇銆傝繖浜涙妧鏈揪鍒版垚鐔熸椂锛屽皢浼氫骇鐢熸繁杩滅殑褰卞搷锛屼互涓绉嶆洿瀹夊叏鐨勬柟寮忔潵鏇夸唬浼犵粺鐨勬瀛曞拰鍒嗗ī銆

TP 201906 future 05The impact will potentially be far reaching when these technologies mature enough to be deployed medically. They could introduce a much safer alternative to the conventional approach of handling pregnancy and childbirth.

 

However, as always, there are a few ethical dilemmas that require close attention from the scientific community, as well from governments and the civil society at large. One such bone of contention is where exactly one draws the thin line between aiming for healthy development and only wanting children who are medically considered the 鈥渉ealthiest.鈥

 

Moreover, in the wake of such a technological breakthrough, who gets the final call on the ever-persistent question of what type of pregnancy is the best? Does the mother get to have the final say? The biological father? Or will it be doctors calling the shot? Will religious leaders have a major issue with any such technology just like they have with abortion?

TP 201906 future 06

Dr. Alan Flake, left, is leading a team developing Biobag, or artificial womb, to help keep babies born severely premature alive

 

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However, on a closer look, the gains humanity can harvest from artificial wombs seem to far outweigh the moral and ethical dilemmas that come along.

 

For example, artificial wombs in the lab could provide an unborn child with an ideal combination of temperature, nutrients, movement, and other stimulants. They are immune from any adverse impact resulting from the mother鈥檚 lifestyle (e.g. free of risks from substance abuse, unhealthy diet, or physical/mental stress).

 

Also, any such technology will allow infertile, gay/trans, and older couples a much easier option to give birth to biological children.

TP 201906 future 07浜虹被浠庝汉閫犲瓙瀹腑鑾峰緱鏀剁泭浼间箮浼氳秴杩囬殢涔嬪甫鏉ョ殑閬撳痉鍜屼鸡鐞嗗洶澧冦備汉閫犲瓙瀹厤鍙楁瘝浜茬敓娲绘柟寮忕殑褰卞搷锛屼负濠村効鎻愪緵鐞嗘兂鐨勫瓡鑲茬幆澧冿紝鍙﹀浼氫娇涓嶈偛銆佸悓鎬ф亱銆佽佸勾澶绛夊鏄撶敓鑲蹭翰鐢熷瓙濂炽

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