Artificial womb technology capable of supporting severely premature babies is a step closer thanks to a major new breakthrough.

In a study published in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, an ‘artificial placenta-based life support platform’ has been used to successfully support ‘preterm lamb fetuses equivalent to a human fetus at 24 weeks of gestation’.

“For several decades there has been little improvement in outcomes of extremely preterm infants born at the border of viability (21-24 weeks gestation),” explained Associate Professor Matt Kemp. “In the AJOG study, we have proven the use of this technology to support, for the first time, extremely preterm lambs equivalent to 24 weeks of human gestation in a stable, growth-normal state for five days. This result underscores the potential clinical application of this technology for extremely preterm infants born at the border of viability. In the world of artificial placenta technology, we have effectively broken the 4 minute mile.”

Researchers from the Women & Infants Research Foundation, Tohoku University Hospital, and University of Western Australia are among those working on the project, which is being carried out in partnership with the Nipro Corporation.

“The technology was designed to revolutionise the treatment of severely premature newborns. The goal is to offer a bridge between a natural womb and the outside world to give babies born at the earliest gestational ages more time for their fragile lungs to mature,” added Prof Kemp. “With additional refinement, what today might be considered as futuristic technology might soon not be so futuristic and might be standard of care.”