Dutch scientists develop the first artificial uterus

A team of scientists and doctors in the Netherlands is creating a technology to save the lives of newborn babies. It is an artificial uterus that can begin to be used in 10 years and which, they say, will allow babies to be reborn; that is, to experience «another birth»: the first one when the baby comes from the mother’s womb and the second one when it comes from an artificial one. But its use raises ethical questions about the development of the future «manufacturing» of babies.

To be born again

Lisa Mandemaker, works for the Máxima Medical Center (MMC) University Hospital as a social designer, the largest health care provider in the southern Netherlands, leads the team in charge of creating the prototype. «We had to think of a design to save the baby, to have it totally out of the female uterus». Mandemaker said that to make her design she used five huge balloons where babies would be «in a certain way, swimming in their own fluids». «There are different kinds of fluids circulating in the tubes, including blood».

An incubator … with liquid

«When I was just studying gynecology, 27 years ago, I thought of the possibility of doing this», says Guid Oei, who works at the same hospital as Lisa. «The main difference with an incubator is that an artificial uterus is filled with fluid», Oei explains. «An incubator is full of air». The specialist argues that incubators are «hostile environments» for very premature babies because the air «damages their lungs».

The idea is that, if there is an extremely premature baby, we can connect its cord to the artificial uterus, so they are able to grow as similar as it could be in a natural womb. The device contains a liquid environment full of water and different minerals, and thus the baby can get oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord, almost in the same way as if they were in a natural uterus. There the baby remains for some weeks. When it is grown enough, they proceed to birth. This procedure could save many lives, concludes the gynecologist.

The ethical debate

Sanne is the mother of three children. She lost one of them died after an extremely premature birth. «It was so small, but it was so sad it was completely formed. It was in the incubator at 24 weeks, and I was so obsessed with getting clean so I couldn’t infect James that we were washing our hands like hundred times per day».

«It is so sad to suffer for such a small living thing», he laments. «But there’s nothing you can do about it; you can’t save it». Dr. Oei says he usually treats pregnant women and that «normally pregnancy is a very happy event in their lives, but when they are born extremely premature it becomes a difficult situation». Thinking on the possible uses of the artificial uterus, Lisa Mandemaker says that she imagines «a future where women won’t suffer from baby losses and body changes, where we can decide of using the artificial uterus as a natural option».

«I think it could also be very interesting for some gay men», she says. «Maybe there is another way, an artificial way», says the designer. Sanne believes that it could be a dream come true, «almost magical», but she also believes that «there is a thin line between a dream come true and a dreadful science fiction movie». «I hope we use knowledge and technology consciously».

With information from: https://www.bbc.com

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