from the dear-little-Bottle-of-mine dept.
[...] a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed 'amniotic fluid' circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. [...] fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to 4 weeks.
A new artificial placenta that mimics conditions in the womb being developed by researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) might provide new hope [for premature babies].
The university has just reported that such an external placenta has kept five extremely premature lambs alive for a week. Although clinical trials are yet to be scheduled for humans, the researchers are hopeful that the technology might one day become a viable way to keep the earliest born babies alive until they can develop on their own.
[...] The artificial placenta works by using an [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation] (ECMO) system in which an external pump, or artificial lung, oxygenates the blood directly and bypasses the lungs. While ECMO has been around awhile, the researchers altered it in this case to serve very premature infants.
The technology would be a godsend for expectant parents if it pans out.
butthurt sent a correction: ECMO is short for "Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation" rather than "Extracorporeal Membrane Oxidation". Sources: Boston Children's Hospital, U.S. National Library of Medicine, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Scientists have developed a way to keep embyros alive outside of a womb for days longer than before, by using a mix of amino acids, hormones, and growth factors:
Zernicka-Goetz says being able to go past the previous limit is "extremely important" from a scientific point of view. That's because the seventh day of development is the time when the human embryo becomes embedded within the body of the mother — when it becomes implanted in the womb. Scientists had thought embryos could only keep developing if they were safely in the womb and receiving instructions from the mother's body.
But the embryos in the studies implanted in the dish like they they would in the womb. Then they started organizing themselves into the very early stages of different complex organs and tissues and structures in the body, the researchers report.
A commentary accompanying the research urges regulators to revisit the "14-day rule":
In principle, these two lines of research could lead to scientists being able to study all aspects of early human development with unprecedented precision. Yet these advances also put human developmental biology on a collision course with the '14-day rule' — a legal and regulatory line in the sand that has for decades limited in vitro human-embryo research to the period before the 'primitive streak' appears. This is a faint band of cells marking the beginning of an embryo's head-to-tail axis. The 14-day rule has been effective for permitting embryo research within strict constraints — partly because it has been technologically challenging for scientists to break it. Now that the culturing of human embryos beyond 14 days seems feasible, more clarity as to how the rule applies to different types of embryo research in different jurisdictions is crucial. Moreover, in light of the evolving science and its potential benefits, it is important that regulators and concerned citizens reflect on the nature of the restriction and re-evaluate its pros and cons.
Self-organization of the in vitro attached human embryo (DOI: 10.1038/nature17948)
Self-organization of the human embryo in the absence of maternal tissues (DOI: 10.1038/ncb3347)
Richard Paulson, President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, has said that transgender women could give birth as soon as "tomorrow" using donated wombs:
Those born with male assigned sex organs cannot conceive children biologically; however, this may soon change, at least according to one fertility expert. Transgender women—those who were assigned male at birth—could give birth as early as "tomorrow," Richard Paulson, an obstetrician-gynecologist and the president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said, according to The Telegraph. Thanks to advances in transgender medicine, donated wombs may be able to help transgender women conceive on their own, Paulson said during the society's annual conference in San Antonio, Texas.
Since at least 1999, transgender men have successfully given birth to healthy children, The Washington Post [archive] reports. More recently, Trystan Reese, a transgender man and his partner Biff Chaplow, gave birth to a healthy child last August. Despite their successes, the process is much more complex for transgender women. Primarily because a man's pelvis is a different shape than a woman's, making the birth much more complicated. Still, Paulson insists that it's possible, but notes the birth must be conducted via cesarean section.
"There would be additional challenges, but I don't see any obvious problem that would preclude it," Paulson said. "I personally suspect there are going to be trans women who are going to want to have a uterus and will likely get the transplant."
Scientists have just discovered why babies need to move in the womb to develop strong bones and joints. It turns out there are some key molecular interactions that are stimulated by movement and which guide the cells and tissues of the embryo to build a functionally robust yet malleable skeleton. If an embryo doesn't move, a vital signal may be lost or an inappropriate one delivered in error, which can lead to the development of brittle bones or abnormal joints.
[...] "Our new findings show that in the absence of embryonic movement the cells that should form articular cartilage receive incorrect molecular signals, where one type of signal is lost while another inappropriate signal is activated in its place. In short, the cells receive the signal that says 'make bone' when they should receive the signal that says 'make cartilage'."
Prior to this discovery, using chick and mouse embryos where movement could be altered, the scientists had previously shown that when movement is reduced the articular cells at the joint do not form properly, and that in extreme cases the bones can fuse at the joint, but they didn't know why. Now, they have isolated the mechanism underlying healthy development, which has provided new insights into what type of embryo movement is important and the specific signals that are needed to make a healthy joint.
This could have implications for physiotherapy as well as artificial wombs.
Precise spatial restriction of BMP signaling in developing joints is perturbed upon loss of embryo movement (DOI: 10.1242/dev.153460) (DX)