50 years ago, lambs survived but didn’t thrive inside artificial wombs

Excerpt from the July 5, 1969 issue of Science News

two photos of fetal lambs in artificial wombs

STAND-IN UTERUS Fifty years on, we may finally be on the cusp of using artificial wombs to support human preemie babies.


Science News cover from July 5, 1969Watching the unborn 

An artificial womb has been used to keep some 35 fetal lambs alive for up to 55 hours … researchers [still] have to show that a fetus can actually grow, not just survive, in their man-made womb…. Eventually, it might be possible to place extremely premature infants into such a womb … to support them until they can survive on their own. — Science News, July 5, 1969


Artificial wombs that bring preemie babies to term could help save thousands of babies born before 28 weeks in the United States each year. In 2017, researchers reported tests on a different kind of womb device on premature lambs. Unlike scientists in the 1960s, who submerged lambs in synthetic amniotic fluid in a fish tank–style setup, the recent group placed lambs in fluid-filled bags, sealed to reduce the risk of infection (SN: 5/27/17, p. 6). Those lambs developed normally during the four-week experiment. That was far better than the average 40 hours the lambs in the ’60s survived before succumbing to infection. Scientists hope to make such technology ready for humans within a few years.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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