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Artificial Wombs

A team led by Professor of Tissue Engineering, Kevin Shakesheff, has created a new device in the form of a soft polymer bowl which mimics the soft tissue of the mammalian uterus in which the embryo implants. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

This new breakthrough is part of a major research effort at Nottingham to learn how the development of the embryo can teach us how to repair the adult body. The work is led by Professor Kevin Shakesheff with funding from European Research Council.

Professor Shakesheff added: “Everyone reading this article grew themselves from a single cell. With weeks of the embryo forming all of the major tissues and organs are formed and starting to function. If we could harness this remarkable ability of the human body to self-form then we could design new medical treatments that cure diseases that are currently untreatable. For example, diseases and defects of the heart could be reversed if we could recreate the process by which cardiac muscle forms and gets wired into the blood and nervous system.” Link

There are two commonly cited endeavors in progess. Focusing on finding ways to save premature babies, Japanese professor Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University, has successfully gestated goat embryos in a machine that holds amniotic fluid in tanks.  On the other end of the process focusing on helping women unable to conceive and gestate babies, is Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, Director of the Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University.  Quietly, in 2003, she and her team succeeded in growing a mouse embryo, almost to full term, by adding engineered endometrium tissue to a bio-engineered, extra-uterine “scaffold.” More recently, she grew a human embryo, for ten days in an artificial womb. Her work is limited by legislation that imposes a 14-day limit on research project of this nature.  As complicated as it is, her goal is a functioning external womb. Link

5 responses to “Artificial Wombs

  1. Giovanni Dannato May 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Ha! Is this coincidence are you reacting to my IMF post?

  2. eric May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    I actually had this one in draft for awhile, but I saw your article and put it out.

  3. eric May 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Lots of esoteric things can come from this, like the ability to control how much testosterone or estrogen a fetus is exposed to in the womb. That’s probably easier to do than outright gene manipulation right now.

  4. Giovanni Dannato May 15, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    This was the general idea in Brave New World, but cruder. Fetuses meant to be dumber were simply handicapped by oxygen deprivation.

    But, yeah, I imagine hormone balance in the womb would be a simple way to significantly alter each child to specifications.

    • eric May 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      The testosterone you get during puberty is generally considered to be more important, but with fetal T you develop your facial bone structure along with the first stages of brain development. Might effect executive function.

      Smoking, drinking, drug use, obesity, stress, all common things that effect pregnant women and therefore the fetus. In order to get the full effect you would have to offer it to the uneducated and poor.

      http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/51
      An old article I wrote for the fat girl jihad:
      http://www.fatgirljihad.com/267/fatties-are-destroying-society

      It would be a lot smarter to simply make geniuses that aren’t overly territorial. Or just try to control for executive function so that they can control themselves. Most wealth and advances are coming from creativity and intelligence. Dumb and malformed kids cost exponentially more than smart kids, even without factoring the opportunity costs.

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