Human trials of artificial wombs could start soon. Here’s what you need to know

US regulators will consider clinical trials of a system that mimics the womb, which could reduce deaths and disability for babies born extremely preterm.

A hairless, pale-skinned lamb lies on its side in what appears to be an oversized sandwich bag filled with hazy fluid. Its eyes are closed, and its snout and limbs jerk as if the animal — which is only about three-quarters of the way through its gestation period — is dreaming.

The lamb was one of eight in a 2017 artificial-womb experiment carried out by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in Pennsylvania. When the team published its research1 in April of that year, it released a video of the experiments that spread widely and captured imaginations — for some, evoking science-fiction fantasies of humans being conceived and grown entirely in a laboratory.

Now, the researchers at CHOP are seeking approval for the first human clinical trials of the device they’ve been testing, named the Extra-uterine Environment for Newborn Development, or EXTEND. The team has emphasized that the technology is not intended — or able — to support development from conception to birth. Instead, the scientists hope that simulating some elements of a natural womb will increase survival and improve outcomes for extremely premature babies. In humans, that’s anything earlier than 28 weeks of gestation — less than 70% of the way to full term, which is typically between 37 and 40 weeks.

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