back to article Ewe, get a womb! Docs grow baby lambs in shrink-wrap plastic bags

Scientists in Philadelphia have created a plastic womb that has successfully incubated eight premature lambs – and the doctors behind the project say they will be ready for human trials within three years. The machine, described in the journal Nature Communications, consists of a plastic bag which is kept full of electrolyte …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They had to put in that ethical disclaimer as a dog-whistle to christian yanks. "Don't worry we're not playing god" or whatever the intended meta-message is.

  2. as2003

    I can't help looking at that sack and think of The Matrix.

    1. goldcd

      Nah, definitely

      Sous Vide

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I can't help looking at that sack and think of The Matrix."

      Makes me think of Brave New World.

      But then while Huxley thought he was writing about a dystopia, most people would actually have wanted to live in it, had it existed. No genetic defects, every child wanted, free medicine. Being incubated in a jar would be a small price to pay.

  3. jake Silver badge

    That's some mighty expensive ...

    ... stew.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's some mighty expensive ... stew

      Tender though.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    In a hospital called (lamb) "CHOP"?

  5. Elmer Phud

    good idea

    One of my girls was very premature via emergency caesarian.

    The fears were that she wouldn't get the final 'booster shot' via the placenta that is vital for early development.

    She had medication (while in the womb) to try and advance lung development and other last minute tweaks - she managed to breathe OK, early oxygen was a concern as it can bugger up sight development, various issues had to be dealt with as some hormones etc.did not get delivered by the time she had to come out.

    The idea of keeping development contained to allow better maturity before birth is a great idea -- if nothing else it will save huge amounts of money and resources currently needed in fire-fighting for the first few months.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: good idea

      I'll join you in that. We lost what would have been our third child to a premature birth. Many years later and the regret still doesn't go away.

      1. lorisarvendu

        Re: good idea

        And here. My daughter was 10 weeks prem via C-section and looked like an oversize rind of bacon. Now 14 and healthy and intelligent, but we had quite a few weeks of worry as they pumped her full of steroids.

        Here's hoping that in years to come this will be as mainstream and accepted as the perspex "cheese container" incubators now are.

        1. Xykon
          Thumb Up

          Re: good idea

          Ditto - my son, now a healthy three year old, was born 11 weeks prem and spent 8 weeks being cared for in neonatal intensive care. His mum had 2 huge shots of steroids to advance the development of his lungs and we were lucky enough to get away with only a few scares before he came home.

          Having seen the heartbreak of other parents (and staff) in NICU, when things hadn't gone as well as they did for us, something like this would be a great step forward and hugely applauded.

          1. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: good idea

            Having been delivered of two daughters close to full-term and alarmed at how fragile they looked I can only imagine what parents of premature babies must go through. But I would absolutely understand their interest in whatever intervention reduced the risks.

            As for the "it looks weird" argument, trust me pretty much everything looks weird when it comes to human reproduction.

    2. Kernel

      Re: good idea

      It gets my support also - my grandson was born 5 weeks early - not a lot compared to some of the others mentioned here - but even that required several weeks in a specialized care unit until his lungs completed development.

  6. Winkypop Silver badge


    Disturbing though...

  7. A K Stiles

    just missing the bit in the middle

    With no comment on any ethical or moral issues, they can now create embryos 'in vitro', and artificially extend the 'in utero' portion where it ends prematurely, How difficult would it be to handle the portion in the middle? I presume there are a number of hormones etc that would need to be provided? Any medical experts with opinions?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: just missing the bit in the middle

      How difficult would it be to handle the portion in the middle?

      I'm no expert but I'd say that's by far and away the hardest part. I could see this technique being extended backwards to handle a fetus with just five or even four months of growth, but it basically needs a vein and an artery to work with, which is going to get progressively more difficult the smaller the fetus. Then the problem at the other end is handling embryogenesis, from implantation and gastrulation onwards. I don't know if we even know yet what hormones and growth factors might be necessary to trigger gene expression and cell differentiation correctly, or when to apply them.

  8. Mystic Megabyte

    Who need sharks anymore!

    and played the sound of a sheep's heartbeat.

    Interspersed with "Kill all humans!". Then at birth fitting them with 'frikken lasers.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Who need sharks anymore!

      Ob xkcd:

  9. imanidiot Silver badge

    Looks unpleasant.

    First off, my hats off to the researchers, this could save infant lives and prevent lots of complications.

    To me it just looks disturbing as hell though. Certainly not really all that suitable for stressed out parents worried sick about their infant.

    1. verno

      Re: Looks unpleasant.

      I would imagine given some of the alternatives new parents will be willing to put up with it not looking overly nice...

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Looks unpleasant.

      Surely you'd look at that and assume all those wires and tubes must be sending the good stuff to your kid, in the olden days they'd have just got a blanket in a cardboard box.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Looks unpleasant.

        And even then a blanket and a cardboard box were far, far better than the alternative...

      2. Tikimon

        Re: Looks unpleasant.

        Luxury! When I were an embryo, us preemies used to dream of a cardboard box. Would have been a palace to us.

    3. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Looks unpleasant.

      Trust me, when parents are faced with their newly born children suffering from anything, they will go through hell to try to deal with it.

      I had to stay in hospital and learn to pass a feed tube up my daughter's nose and into her stomach and that is nothing compared to what some of the other parents had to deal with while I was in Great Ormond Street. Children born premature, without a pancreas, without limbs, one without a face but when it is your child you will do what you must.

      We are wired to protect our children, it shouldn't be any other way. This is not growing clones, it is improving the chances of very unlucky children and their families to look forward to a normal life.

  10. ARGO

    Best headline this week.

    Have a beer!

  11. Tim Seventh

    Actual Highlight

    "unfunded doctors buying parts from eBay and brewing shops to cobble together a prototype"

    Be right back, I'm gonna build my own human battery with parts from eBay.

    1. LaeMing

      Re: Actual Highlight

      Good luck, but I hope you aren't expecting a positive energy output!

      I still think the Matrix should have turned out to be the machines' last-ditch effort to preserve humanity after humanity wrecked the Earth (and Xion were a bunch of idiots who missed the memo).

  12. Drefsab_UK

    People saying this looks disturbing sure it may do but firstly its a prototype and secondly if you took out a womb with an infant inside then how do you think it would look.

    If this was to ever develop into a used treatment they would make all efforts to make it look better (as much as is possible anyway).

    The thing I am concerned with is not the technology but its the application of it. It can be used to save babies lives one of the most noble of uses you could get. I could also see this being used to turn humans into nothing more than products to be grown to order. Sci-fi often touched on this like in space above and beyond where humans were grown to fill a labour gap. So basically were grown to be slaves and were of lesser standing than normal humans.

    Now this is an extream example possibly but if this tech exists its not impossible and do we really have faith that it will never be abused?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "Now this is an extream example possibly but if this tech exists its not impossible a"

      Actually if you watch the vid you'll see they've been very careful to note the tech is for Mothers at high risk of premature birth around the 23-24 week which is also the abortion cut off date

      That said there are babies born considerably younger and the question may eventually be asked if it the technology could be extended backwards.

      That however will be an ethical conversation that will await successful trials.

      Remember this is V 0.2 tech at best.

      No one's going to be running any GE super soldier programmes with this tech just yet.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: "Now this is an extream example possibly but if this tech exists its not impossible a"

        "the tech is for Mothers at high risk of premature birth around the 23-24 week which is also the abortion cut off date"

        has anyone ELSE drawn the obvious conclusion from this, i.e. instead of killing the fetus...

        (but hey saving lives is a good thing so there ya go)

        /me waits through uncomfortable silence that results from posting this

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          "has anyone ELSE drawn the obvious conclusion from this, i.e. instead of "

          You mean that one women's premature baby is another women's abortion?

          That's been the case for at least the last 30 years.

          However given the way this issue stirs up the SEL contingent of US politics no sensible discussion can be had on the subject.

          Personally I'd find out what the slowest abnormality test takes for defects and extend the termination limit to that.

  13. Black Rat

    The Kindred

    The Kindred. Scaring artificial womb researchers from working at home since 1987

  14. Christoph

    If this happens in the US there will be queues of lawyers arguing whether the birth date is the date of removal from the mother or removal from the artificial womb. The battles between rival astrologers won't be so intense as there wouldn't be quite so much money involved.

  15. TRT Silver badge

    Is that photo a photoshop job?

    Or did you manage to find a mint source?

    1. Aqua Marina

      Re: Is that photo a photoshop job?

      That gave me such a groan I feel obliged to grab your coat off you, and leave myself :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is that photo a photoshop job?

      Oh that's bahh'd

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: Is that photo a photoshop job?

      You should feel right sheepish for that baatrocity.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: You should feel right sheepish for that baatrocity.

        Ewe are correct.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    And it's only taken 52 years.

    There's a Life magazine cover from 1965 showing a picture of an "artificial womb" with a small fetus inside it (not sure if it was staged or real).

    Like deep brain implants this seems to have been one of those technologies that the scientists of the time felt was somehow unacceptable to society and put on the shelf.

    It's exciting to see people pursuing this once again.

    Obvious SF reference would be JM Bujolds novel "Barryar, " although I doubt they've gotten round to considering the ability to apply in vitro treatments to the fetus that could be lethal to the Mother.

    But WTF "1% of all US born babies are premature and the % has risen over the last 2-3 decades"

    How does US compare with other countries?

    Something is seriously f**king wrong.

    Looks like a vacuum packed package to me.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: And it's only taken 52 years.

      But WTF "1% of all US born babies are premature and the % has risen over the last 2-3 decades"

      How does US compare with other countries?

      It's not as bad as you might think:

      "Of 65 countries with reliable trend data, all but 3 show an increase in preterm birth rates over the past 20 years. Possible reasons for this include better measurement, increases in maternal age and underlying maternal health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure, greater use of infertility treatments leading to increased rates of multiple pregnancies, and changes in obstetric practices such as more caesarean births before term."

      Although the upwards trend of some of those possible contributory factors isn't a good thing in itself.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: And it's only taken 52 years.

        More likely to do with "statistics". Like the great helmet controversy of WW1 where the introduction of the battle bowler lead to an INCREASE in head injuries. (Because instead of soldier being killed by clods of earth raining down on them in an artillery strike they merely received non fatal head wounds).

        In this case improved in-utero diagnostics, increased knowledge about care for premature infants and better ways of keeping a child alive means doctors are sooner going to decide to allow the child to be born early, where they would have let is stay in the womb before. Thus an increase in premature babies. (Instead of a whole lot of near full term stillborn babies that might have survived by being delivered premature nowadays)

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          "More likely to do with "statistics". "

          Interesting idea.

          Premature births go up but stillborn deaths go down.

    2. Kharkov

      Re: And it's only taken 52 years.

      Lois McMaster Bujold, if you please, not JM...

      And yes, the first steps towards the uterine replicator have been taken.

      Now pay Lois her royalty cheque...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "Lois McMaster Bujold, if you please, not JM..."

        Oops, fingers slipped on keyboard.

        As the authors were very clear to point out this does not lower the survival threshold below the termination limit.

        But premature babies have survived well below the maximum termination limit and have done so long before now, although I'm not sure how much care they've needed in later life to deal with the side effects of stopping further development assisted by their Mother at such an early stage. The question of course would be if a pregnant women came into the ER and went into labor at 22 or 23 weeks what would they do? "No sorry can't help you" or would they rush baby and fetus to the ITU? IDK but I think sooner or later someone will have to make that call.

        Other interesting side effects of this technology would include pre-natal adoption and wheather people would choose to transfer to a support chamber if it was proved the environment was more stable and less stressful to the fetus.

        Again this is on the boundary between medical necessity and social preferences.

  17. El Chupanibre

    Just wait for Fox News and Info wars start on this

    I cannot wait for the Alt Right in America to get on this. Info Wars Alex Jones will get even more angry, saying probably

    "They want to take the foetuses from abortion clinics and raise a cyborg army with mind control implants! with the internet of things the first step to the rise of the machines!"

    Should be in capitals I know.

    Anything that helps premature babies should be applauded, yes is does look uncomfortable to some, but the new always is. If it didn't, we would still be in caves.

    P.S. They have found the article on the Mirror website

    Alex has not read it yet!

  18. Jim84

    Time for a Medical DARPA - Medical research is ridiculously conservative

    The bit of the article that struck me was that the researchers had to start off funding this research out of their own pockets as they presumably couldn't get funding. Total annual cost of premature births to the US - around $48 billion dollars. Not funding this research is a classic example of the insanity that can result from the current extremely risk adverse grant process.

  19. adam 40 Bronze badge
    Paris Hilton

    Too posh to push - now too lazy to carry?

    What's the betting that mothers in the third trimester now start having C-sections early and popping baby in a bag for no reason other than they won't have to carry to full term?

    Just think - far fewer stretch marks, back to work earlier, what's not to like?

    After all - "it's their body".

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: Too posh to push - now too lazy to carry?

      Yes. It _is_ their body.

      What, exactly, is your objection? Please be specific.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Too posh to push - now too lazy to carry?

      You're way behind the curve.

      You may find this short orientation film useful.

      1. adam 40 Bronze badge

        Re: Too posh to push - now too lazy to carry?

        @ Mr Smith - an interesting perspective, I will now have to chromecast the whole film.

        @ The rest of you with yer thumbs down - your grasp of irony is positively Brevellian ;^)

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Too posh to push - now too lazy to carry?

          Brevellian? The rest of us relate to expensive, over-rated kitchen appliances? That's a broad brush you paint with, sir!

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          "an interesting perspective, I will now have to chromecast the whole film."

          I think it's an under rated film from the opening scene (which most door staff will cringe at. Listen carefully) to the arrival of the assault team to take down the kidnappers.

          Much of it had me in stitches.

          Parental advisory. Violence, gore, offensive language from the outset, suicide advocacy. *

          *Just complying with the UK internet access filter rules.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At what point

    does Hojo inject them with Jenova cells?

  21. AdamWill


    "Ewe, get a womb!"

    Headline of the month, right there. Proceed directly to the pub and collect many, many pints, that writer.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ten thousand years we slumbered.. Now we riiise.

    Words to live by?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To your scattered bodies go

    Creep-out factor: 10

  24. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Am I the only one..

    ..that thinks it would be really cool to use this to see a developing embryo from the very early stages to birth?

    I know a lot of people will be unhappy about the concept ethically, but wouldn't it be awesome to see a mammal (not necessarily a human) develop in real time without needing to use ultrasound and other tricks to see the progress?

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