What is an Artificial Womb?

The idea of turning a fertilised egg into a fetus outside the human body seems unrealistic. Until recently, many believed that could only happen in fiction. However, the introduction of the artificial womb promises to make what seemed impossible, probable.

An artificial womb is equipment that enables the conception, fertilisation, development, and birth of a child outside the human body. The entire process is called ectogenesis, referring to a pregnancy that develops outside the uterus.

Development of Artificial Wombs

The first test on an artificial womb involved sheep, which had a positive outcome. The lambs developed normally as they would if they were in their mother’s uterus.

Although the sheep experiment took four weeks, scientists are confident that human fetuses can last longer in artificial wombs. They further believe that mothers could soon choose to develop their fetuses inside their bodies or in artificial wombs. However, full ectogenesis would be subject to legal and scientific support.

The Components of an Artificial Womb

An artificial womb consists of an outer covering that protects the embryo as it develops. Its inside comprises uterine tissues taken from living organisms, where the embryo implants until birth.

The womb has a synthetic amniotic fluid, which like its natural equivalent, serves as a shock absorber to protect the fetus from hitting the ‘uterine walls.’

The last component is an exchange mechanism, which mimics the placenta. It supplies nutrients and oxygen to the growing fetus and removes carbon dioxide and other wastes.

In animal trials, this exchange system comprises complex catheters and pumps. However, these are large and expensive to operate. For these reasons, scientists are considering smaller models that support extracorporeal oxygen. These are efficient, cheaper to run, and allow blood oxygenation outside the body.

Potential Benefits of Artificial Wombs

The primary motivation for developing artificial wombs is to improve the survival rates of prematurely born infants. The gestation period in humans is 40 weeks; if birth occurs before 37 weeks, the baby is deemed premature.

Currently, a pregnancy must last at least 24 weeks to become viable. This means a fetus younger than 23 weeks dies because doctors can’t transfer it into an incubator. Still, many of those who pass the 24-week barrier don’t grow into healthy babies. Unfortunately, at least 24% die before birth, while survivors are vulnerable to brain damage, blindness, bowel complications, lung disease, and other congenital disabilities. 

So, how can artificial wombs help premature babies?

Unlike incubators, whose sole aim is to keep the fetus living, artificial wombs allow gestation to continue to completion. In addition, it provides the necessary nutrients while protecting the baby from potential infections.

If a woman experiences premature labour, they can transfer their babies to artificial wombs. It’s a risk worth taking because every mother would rather have a healthy baby than one with illnesses and disabilities.

Additionally, artificial wombs could benefit infertile women who want babies. They could also make it possible for transgender individuals, homosexual men, and women who don’t have or have lost uterine functions due to disease, injury, or other causes to have children.

Wrapping Up

Like most scientific inventions related to reproductive health, some people consider artificial wombs unethical. First, its use promises to improve fetus viability, which conflicts with abortion. Secondly, religious people are likely to question its ‘naturalness.’

Ethics aside, artificial wombs are a great invention that makes it possible for every person who desires a child to have one. Hopefully, scientists will advance the technology and make full ectogenesis possible.