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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

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