A pair of British researchers have developed an artificial womb that could potentially save millions of lives in the event of a stroke.
The device, called C2, uses a small, robotic arm to lift a pregnant woman from her cervix and deliver the child, using a small amount of oxygen to keep her alive.
The technique has the potential to be used in emergency situations such as childbirth, when an artificial pregnancy is threatened by a stroke, or in the case of a miscarriage, when a woman has died of a preeclampsia-related complication.
It could also be used to treat miscarriages, which account for one in five live births worldwide.
However, C2 is not yet ready for use in women of childbearing age, who are not yet at high risk for stroke.
C2 will be made available to women on an experimental basis in the coming weeks, according to Dr John Worsley, a bioengineer and co-director of the Centre for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (CMBS), which developed the device.
C3, which is the equivalent of C2 in terms of functionality, is being developed by Dr Hui Wang, an expert in artificial reproduction and husbandry at CMBS.
It will be available to the public in late 2020.
“There’s no reason why a woman would not want to use it, because the cost is relatively low, the benefits are great and the safety is excellent,” Dr Wang told BBC News.
“C3 is a completely novel technology, and the technology has been in development for a long time.”
The technology relies on a technique called endosperm transplantation, in which an egg is fertilised using a donor egg and implanted into a surrogate.
The surrogate mother then carries the baby to term and gives birth to a child of their own.
The baby’s genetic material is transferred to the surrogate mother via a small tube, which then enters the womb and is fertilized by the sperm.
The fertilised egg is then injected into the uterus, where the embryo develops normally.
When a woman is pregnant, the embryo’s genetic code is then transferred to her womb.
This information is passed down to the baby’s mother and, once the baby is born, she can implant the genetic material in the mother’s womb.
The procedure can be carried out safely and painlessly, as long as the mother is not over-stimulating the embryo, Dr Wang said.
The embryo would then grow to be around a centimetre long, about the size of a pinhead.
When the mother has delivered her first child, the baby could be a male or female and could be either male or a mix of both genders.
The mother can also give birth to up to two babies at a time.
If the surrogate baby is male, the surrogate can give birth on her own or in a surrogate relationship with another surrogate mother.
The technology could also prove useful in treating conditions such as anaemia, high blood pressure and anaemia-related infertility.
Dr Wang is currently working on a similar device that uses a sperm-to-egg transplant technique.
This is the technology that could be used, for example, in the future to save a pregnant person who is terminally ill.
“In the case where there is no viable donor, it’s possible to give the mother an injection of donor sperm and have the baby born,” Dr Worsby said.
“This could be particularly helpful in people who have no viable donors.”
The C2 technology is not perfect, however, as it is currently only being tested in clinical trials.
Dr Wersley said the research team was working on further improvements.
“The first thing we are going to do is to find out how it performs in the real world, what its safety profile is, and then we will see what the safety profile will be in the clinical trials,” he said.
In the meantime, he said the technology would likely be used as a tool in trials to test the safety of other types of artificial reproduction methods.
“It’s really exciting to be able to have this technology in the hands of the people who really want to see it used in the field,” Dr Tessa Maitland, a senior lecturer in the University of Exeter’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said.
This article first appeared on BBC Future.
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