Partridge et al. Nature Communications 2017.

An artificial womb can keep premature lambs alive for four weeks and support normal growth and development, a new report shows. The researchers hope to apply the approach to human infants.

Why it matters: 30,000 babies are born prematurely (before 26 weeks of gestation) in the U.S. each year. Chances for survival — typically 30 to 50 percent — have improved for infants born early, but they can experience long-term health issues like chronic lung disease and delays in physical and cognitive development.

How it works: The system developed by researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia mimics a woman's uterus. The fetus is placed in a plastic film bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid and its umbilical cord is connected to a machine that oxygenates the lamb's blood and returns it and nutrients to the fetus.

Key features: The animal's heart pumps the blood through the system rather than a machine, which can strain an underdeveloped heart. Instead of air, the lungs receive liquid like they do in the womb. Open air incubators that are currently used can arrest lung development and potentially expose infants to pathogens.

What's new: Previous systems kept critically premature animals alive for a few days outside their mother's body. In the study with eight lambs equivalent in gestation to a human fetus at 23 weeks, the animals survived for up to four weeks inside the artificial womb. Their lungs, brains and other organs developed normally and they physically matured, gaining weight and growing wool.

What's next: The researchers are currently working on a preclinical study with the FDA and, if approved, anticipate the device could be tested in hospitals in 3 to 5 years. But major hurdles exist, including determining if a human umbilical cord can be successfully connected, devising the amniotic fluid and assessing the ultimate long-term effects of the approach.

Our thought bubble: By essentially adding an intermediate, artificial stage of development, the technology could open up thorny ethical questions about when a baby is technically born and for how long a fetus could — and should — be raised outside the womb.

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
36 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Climate change goes mainstream in presidential debate

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

The most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact.

The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

Finally, a real debate

Photo: Morry Gash/AP

A more disciplined President Trump held back from the rowdy interruptions at tonight's debate in Nashville, while making some assertions so outlandish that Joe Biden chuckled and even closed his eyes.

  • A Trump campaign adviser told Axios: "He finally listened." 

The result: A real debate.

Biden to Trump: "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life"

Former VP Joe Biden pushed back Thursday against allegations from President Trump, saying he had never profited from foreign sources. "Nothing was unethical," Biden told debate moderator Kristen Welker about his son Hunter's work in Ukraine while he was vice president.

Why it matters: Earlier on Thursday, Hunter Biden's former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, released a statement saying Joe Biden's claims that he never discussed overseas business dealings with his son were "false."

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