TOKYO (Reuter) – A Japanese scientist has developed an artificial womb capable of incubating goat fetuses but it may take 10 years before it could be used to save human babies, he said Friday.
“We’re aiming eventually to use the technology for human fetuses but it will take maybe 10 years,” Juntendo University gynecology professor Yoshinori Kuwabara told Reuters.
Kuwabara’s findings have been published in the Journal of the Japan Medical Association, the country’s medical review publication.Kuwabara said he had maintained goat fetuses for up to three weeks in a plastic tank, until the end of their incubation period, but it would be some time before if could be used for human fetuses.
“Other researchers around the world have managed to maintain fetuses outside the womb for up to several days but we’re the only ones who have sustained life in an artificial womb for so long,” Kuwabara said.
The artificial womb is a rectangular clear plastic box filled with amniotic fluid at body temperature and connected to an array of devices for vital functions. The fetus lies submerged in the tank womb which replaces oxygen and cleans the fetus’ blood with a dialysis machine connected to the umbilical cord, he added.
Professor Koyo Yoshida, a member of Kuwabara’s research team, said he was wary of exaggerations by the press of a miracle artificial womb which could free women of the pain of childbirth.
“Some of the stories printed in the British press are only half true. We are not trying to extend the possible incubation period in the artificial womb right now. Three weeks is the limit with the technology we have now,” he said.
Many of the experimental goat fetuses incubated in the artificial womb only survived for a few days after being taken out of the tank although some remained alive for much longer, he added. “The next step is to see how the fetus develops after it has been taken out of the artificial womb,” Kuwabara said.
Although his team has experimented for over 10 years, it was still early to hope for a quick end to miscarriages and premature baby fatalities through the use of an artificial womb, he added.
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