How could an artificial womb help preemies?

ST. PETERSBURG — Researchers are using an artificial womb to help a premature baby lamb develop just like it would inside its mom. And it's something that could one day be used on human premature babies.

I found out how it could eventually save lives and what it will mean for families.

I sat down with Wendy Spiriti, the mother of a preemie, and spoke with Dr. Tony Napolitano, the chair of the Department of Pediatric Medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

Here’s the conversation:

WENDY SPIRITI (her son Logan was born 7 weeks early): You go to bed one night and wake up in the middle of the night and have to go to the hospital. And that's it. And the entire course of your life is altered.

DR. TONY NAPOLITANO: No mother ever expects to have a premature baby.

SPIRITI: Not only because you're watching your child suffer, I have to learn how to eat and breathe, I think it changes who you are as a person.

NAPOLITANO: You're trying to help a baby that really developmentally is not really ready to survive outside of the mother's womb.

SPIRITI: You have all this fear of what can possibly happen. How is my child going to be? Is he going to be able to breathe? Will he survive?

RIVERA: So this whole artificial womb thing – as a preemie mom - what went through your head when you saw that?

SPIRITI: Well, first and foremost, I thought it was absolutely amazing.

NAPOLITANO: I was fascinated by that story. Babies that are born at 23 to 24 weeks are babies that are just at the cusp of life.

SPIRITI: The idea that the possibility exists to be able to continue having a micro-preemie in that type of environment just unbelievable.

NAPOLITANO: If you could buy them four or five weeks in a womb like atmosphere, you could really get them over some of the real difficult hurdles that they have and get them to 27, 28 weeks. The video wasn't to get the baby to term. It was just you try to get four or five additional weeks give them to the point where survival is better in the complication is less.

RIVERA: It's at least 10 years away from being something that you might NICU. Nobody can use it right now. But, 10 years down the line I could be there.

SPIRITI: That would be incredible.

Again I want to be clear: this artificial womb is not on the market now  it's not even available for human tests yet. But researchers could get it approved by the FDA in the next decade.

 

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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