Ectogenesis: The”artificial womb” is no longer just science fiction

Read more about this remarkable breakthrough technology here: Simulating mom’s womb in research to help earliest preemies

In early-stage animal testing, extremely premature lambs appeared to grow normally inside the system for three to four weeks, the team reported on Tuesday.

“We start with a tiny fetus that is pretty inert and spends most of its time sleeping. Over four weeks we see that fetus open its eyes, grow wool, breathe, swim,” said Dr. Emily Partridge, a CHOP research fellow and first author of the study published in Nature Communications.

“It’s hard to describe actually how uniquely awe-inspiring it is to see,” she added in an interview.

Human testing still is three to five years away, although the team already is in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re trying to extend normal gestation,” said Dr. Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at CHOP who is leading the project and considers it a temporary bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world.

Increasingly hospitals attempt to save the most critically premature infants, those born before 26 weeks gestation and even those right at the limits of viability — 22 to 23 weeks. Extreme prematurity is a leading cause of infant mortality, and those who do survive frequently have serious disabilities such as cerebral palsy.

The idea of treating preemies in fluid-filled incubators may sound strange, but physiologically it makes sense, said Dr. Catherine Spong, a fetal medicine specialist at the National Institutes of Health.

“This is really an innovative, promising first step,” said Spong, who wasn’t involved with the research.

One of the biggest risks for very young preemies is that their lungs aren’t ready to breathe air, she explained. Before birth, amniotic fluid flows into their lungs, bringing growth factors crucial for proper lung development. When they’re born too soon, doctors hook preemies to ventilators to keep them alive but risk lifelong lung damage.

This “womb-like system” is currently intended to support preemies at today’s limits of viability, but it isn’t a great leap from here, to the idea of directly artificially growing embryos straight from an egg fertilized via “In vitro fertilization”.

Resulting in the ultimate “test tube babies”.

What will ectogenesis ultimately mean for feminism, medicine, bioethics, and reproductive politics?

Combine this technology with female Robotic mates (yeah, Sex Bots!) and feminists might just find themselves in a situation where … a man needs a human woman, as much as a fish needs a bicycle.

Update: It’s almost as if I’m psychic or something … The race to build the world’s first sex robot

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