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Simulating mom's womb in research to help earliest preemies

In this drawing provided by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, an illustration of a fluid-filled incubation system that mimics a mother’s womb, in hopes of one day improving survival of extremely premature babies. In animal testing, fetal lambs grew for up to four weeks inside a bag filled with a substitute for amniotic fluid, while the heart pumped blood into a machine attached to the umbilical cord that supplied oxygen like a placenta normally would. (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Researchers are creating an artificial womb to improve care for extremely premature babies — and animal testing suggests the first-of-its-kind watery incubation so closely mimics mom that it just might work.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia aims to give the tiniest preemies a few more weeks cocooned in a womb-like environment so their lungs have more time to develop. It's a gentler solution than today's standard incubators, where babies weighing as little as a pound are hooked to ventilators.

The researchers created a fluid-filled container simulating the amniotic fluid in mom's uterus, and attached a mechanical placenta that keeps blood oxygenated.

In first-stage testing, extremely premature lambs grew apparently normally inside the system for three to four weeks. Human testing still is several years away.

The study was in Nature Communications.

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