Each year tens of thousands of children are born before the onset of 26 weeks pregnant. Doctors call these babies "prematurely critical". These children often have serious health problems: half of the die, and 90% of survivors suffer from various serious diseases. Early childbearing is associated with one third of infant deaths and half of all cases of cerebral palsy (CP).

"The first challenge facing critically premature babies is survival, says Dr. Kevin Dysart (Dysart Kevin), a neonatologist from Children's hospital of Philadelphia (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia). — Those who survived, must make great efforts to master the skills and abilities that normal kids get a gift: learning to walk, talk, see, hear". Great strides in the care of critically premature babies medicine today has not yet reached. But in the next ten years that could change. Tuesday's edition of Nature Communications published the results of a preclinical study conducted at the Children's hospital of Philadelphia. Scientists have made a number of important steps to developing an "artificial womb" for the care of children born much before term. This development should help critically premature babies to develop normally outside the mother's body.

Now these children — sometimes they are so small that can fit on the palm of an adult — vyhazhivanie in incubators, where they are fed through the tubes and oxygen for breathing. The problem with this approach is that critical premature babies are not ready for such power, no such breath. In the body of maternal oxygen to the fetus comes from the blood through the umbilical cord. Outside the uterus the need for independent breath disturbs the process of formation of the lungs.

A group of scientists decided to find a new approach. Instead of caring for preterm infants as if their body is already fully formed, the researchers attempted to recreate the internal environment of the uterus. In it, a baby is surrounded by fluid and gets oxygen through the umbilical cord and not through a tube. It would help to extend the gestational period for a month and, in theory, resolve some of the problems associated with early birth. When it comes to premature babies, each additional week spent inside the uterus, dramatically increases a child's chances of survival and the maintenance of normal health.

Researchers have developed the so-called "artificial womb" — a plastic bag filled with a substitute for amniotic fluid. Her baby will be placed immediately after extraction from the maternal body by means of a caesarean section. In the process children may be given a special drug that prevents self-start of pulmonary breathing, it is necessary that the baby could continue to develop normally when placed in a surrogate amniotic fluid.

In an artificial womb also built a system of oxygen delivery. Two tubes are associated with the umbilical cord of the baby, the first tube carries blood from the body into the oxygenator, where it is enriched with oxygen, and the second returns the blood back into the body of the child.

The researchers successfully tested his invention on 8 sheep embryos, gestational age was 105 to 108 days, which is approximately 23 weeks of pregnancy in humans. Sheep are widely used for embryological studies. According to the head of research fetal surgeon Alan Flake (Alan Flake), virtually everything we have learned about the circulation of the fetus and its development over the past 50-60 years, we found out thanks to the lambs and the sheep.

Placed in an artificial womb lambs to develop normally for 4 weeks. They opened their eyes and grew fur. The developers hope that the artificial womb trials involving humans will begin very soon.

"Currently, we interact with Management on sanitary inspection behind quality of foodstuff and medicines (Food and Drug Administration), it is therefore possible that clinical trials will begin in a year or two," explains Flake.

The development of artificial womb began about three years ago — and still this invention is seen by many as science fiction. The researchers had no funding, so the first prototype had to be created with the use of plumbing equipment and other material purchased on eBay.