Scientists have devised an unusual way of improving the survival of extremely premature babies. This is known as an artificial womb. The artificial womb has been named EVE which stands for ex-vivo uterine environment therapy.
Presently, incubators are used to keep premature babies alive. However, this treatment approaches extremely premature babies as small infants instead of unborn babies without resources to survive outside the womb.
A multinational effort at overcoming this challenge has recently yielded results-the artificial womb-which was successfully used to keep healthy baby lambs alive for a week. The findings were published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
According to Associate Prof Kemp, one of the researchers,
Designing treatment strategies for extremely preterm infants is a challenge. At this gestational age the lungs are often too structurally and functionally under-developed for the baby to breathe easily. At its core, our equipment is essentially is a high-tech amniotic fluid bath combined with an artificial placenta. Put those together, and with careful maintenance what you’ve got is an artificial womb. By providing an alternative means of gas exchange for the fetus, we hoped to spare the extremely preterm cardiopulmonary system from ventilation-derived injury, and save the lives of those babies whose lungs are too immature to breathe properly. The end goal is to provide preterm babies the chance to better develop their lungs and other important organs before being brought into the world
Premature birth refers to the delivery of a baby before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. It is quite common worldwide. In the United States, one out of every ten may be born premature. Worldwide, up to 15 million babies are born preterm. Here is the list of the top ten countries with premature births worldwide:
|Country||Number of premature births|
|India||3 519 100|
|China||1 172 300|
|The United States of America||517 400|
|The Philippines||348 900|
|The Democratic Republic of the Congo||341 400|
With prematurity comes difficulty in sucking, swallowing and breathing. Therefore, the survival rate of premature babies is quite low in several countries. To improve their chances of survival, most are nursed in neonatal intensive care units for weeks or months. Sadly, the risk of long term health problems is also high in those that survive.
Generally, the chance of survival decreases with level of prematurity. The chance of survival at fewer than 23 weeks is almost zero, while at 23 weeks it is 15%, 24 weeks 55% and 25 weeks about 80%.
There is also a huge difference in survival rates when low income settings are compared with high income countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half of the babies born at or below 32 weeks (2 months early) in low income countries die. Common causes of death include ineffective care, cost and lack of adequate equipment to provide warmth and support for breathing and breastfeeding. In a recent review of premature births in Lagos, Nigeria, one out of eight cases had not received antenatal care at the hospital.
Do you know that the record of the earliest surviving premature birth is held by James Elgin Gill, who was 21 weeks and 5 days at birth? He was born on 20 May 1987 in Ottawa, Canada and weighed 624g. Furthermore, the world’s smallest premature boy to survive was Jonathon Whitehill was born at 25 weeks gestation with a weight of 310 grams. He was hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit for five months before discharge.
To reduce the risk of premature births, mothers-to-be need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, avoiding psychoactive substances while maintaining good contact with health professionals. Proper antenatal care generally improves detection of multiple births and prepares the premature baby better.