Spanish researchers want to use an artificial womb to “trickle nature.”

After research on animals kept fetuses alive for 12 days, scientists in Barcelona are attempting to “trick nature” by developing an artificial womb for very premature kids.

Their artificial placenta prototype imitates a protected environment with a transparent, biocompatible container so that the fetus’ lungs, intestines, and brain can continue to develop inside of it.

It is linked to a mechanism for the circulation of amniotic fluid, which keeps the fetus protected from outside stimuli but accessible for control and monitoring by ultrasound.

Babies born at six months or later are regarded as severely preterm and are at a significant risk of dying or becoming disabled. According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization, over 900,000 such infants perished globally in 2019.

We work to develop a method that allows us to keep a fetus alive outside of its mother while also maintaining the fetus’ circumstances: that it continues to breathe through the umbilical cord… that we can feed it via the umbilical cord, that it lives surrounded by fluid at a constant temperature,” project leader Eduard Gratacos told Reuters.

He is the leader of a group of 35 people from the BCNatal medical research center, which was created by combining the obstetrics and maternal-fetal medicine departments of two hospitals in Barcelona, and Fundacion La Caixa, a for-profit business supported by Caixabank.


The scientists will test with pigs before suggesting a human trial in a few years. In pre-clinical experiments with lambs, they were able to achieve 12-day fetal survival.

“The extremely complicated project involves engineers of all types and crosses a wide range of medical disciplines. To accomplish this, to fool nature in order to make this feasible, is difficult and highly delicate, according to Gratacos.

One team of researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was one of just a few such experiments throughout the world to successfully preserve animal fetuses for 28 days.

According to Kelly Werner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, the Spanish team’s promising findings need to be thoroughly examined in human clinical trials to rule out risks and adverse effects.

“The artificial placenta is not meant to take the place of a genuine placenta, despite the fact that it is an exciting discovery, according to Werner. Therefore, despite these developments, we should continue to support maternal health and reduce risk factors for premature birth.

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