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Shawn H Corey
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Don't stop where the ink does.
Don't stop where the ink does.

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I've been watching this .GIF for most of a week, now.

So. Soothing.

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In an incredibly interesting development, an "artificial womb" has successfully grown sheep from 105-120 days in pregnancy (roughly the equivalent of 22-24 weeks in a human) to full term. The womb consists of a sealed transparent bag, inside which an electrolyte fluid flows, keeps the developing lungs supported, and removes waste (much like amniotic fluid does) and an umbilical blood system which provides nutrients, oxygenates blood, and so on. As you can imagine, this was tremendously difficult to develop -- e.g., the umbilical system can't have its own pump, since that would damage the developing heart, and instead fluids must flow easily enough that the fetus' own heartbeat is enough to keep its circulation going.

What's amazing is that this seems to be working. Eight lambs have been born through the system, and researchers are monitoring them closely to see how they develop.

This isn't a complete uterine replicator; the environment in early development is even more complex than it is in late development, and there's no suggestion that you could start from an embryo or a zygote here. What this could have an effect on is extreme prematurity -- infants delivered at or before the 28th week, who currently have a fairly poor prognosis, both for survival and later quality of life. The further effects that such technologies could have in the future are, of course, even more profound. (And have been discussed at length in the science fictional literature, with Bujold being probably its most famous explorer)

Current estimates suggest that this could be 3-5 years away from the first human tests. Those are likely to be difficult, of course, since human development is more complex than sheep development, especially as regards the brain; however, if applied to extremely premature fetuses, it could be a reasonable experimental treatment as the alternative is even worse.

via +David Fuchs

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Yay Canada
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