Womb with a View

Will premature infants soon be able to return to a uterine environment to finish their development?

May 2017

In the developed world, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of death in neonates (1). And for those who do survive, complications related to organ immaturity are common. Some of these problems may be directly caused by the move from the womb to the outside world – for example, breathing gas instead of liquid is related to issues with lung development (2).

New approaches are needed to give premature infants a better start in life – and a host of problems could be addressed by returning infants to the womb – or, more accurately, a womb-like environment. We spoke to Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who is developing an extra-uterine support device (3) that has so far seen success with fetal lambs (see Figure 1).