DiversityNursing Blog

This Artificial Womb Could Help Prematurely Born Babies

Posted by Pat Magrath

Fri, Apr 28, 2017 @ 02:40 PM

042517_TI_artificial-womb_main.jpgHave you heard the recent news story about an artificial womb to help babies born prematurely? Right now, scientists have created it and are testing it with animals. Lambs, the article states, are responding well.
 
This topic raises many ethical questions. Read this article for the details and let us know what you think. Is this a little out there, or, are you comfortable with the possibilities for the future?

Scientists have created an "artificial womb" in the hopes of someday using the device to save babies born extremely prematurely.

So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.

"We've been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model," says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

"They've had normal growth. They've had normal lung maturation. They've had normal brain maturation. They've had normal development in every way that we can measure it," Flake says.

Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.

"What we tried to do is develop a system that mimics the environment of the womb as closely as possible," Flake says. "It's basically an artificial womb."

Inside an artificial womb

The device consists of a clear plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. A machine outside the bag is attached to the umbilical cord to function like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide.

"The whole idea is to support normal development; to re-create everything that the mother does in every way that we can to support normal fetal development and maturation," Flake says.

Other researchers praised the advance, saying it could help thousands of babies born very prematurely each year, if tests in humans were to prove successful.

Jay Greenspan, a pediatrician at Thomas Jefferson University, called the device a "technological miracle" that marks "a huge step to try to do something that we've been trying to do for many years."

The device could also help scientists learn more about normal fetal development, says Thomas Shaffer a professor of physiology and pediatrics at Temple University.

"I think this is a major breakthrough," Shaffer says.

The device in the fetal lamb experiment is kept in a dark, warm room where researchers can play the sounds of the mother's heart for the lamb fetus and monitor the fetus with ultrasounds.

Previous research has shown that lamb fetuses are good models for human fetal development.

"If you can just use this device as a bridge for the fetus then you can have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of extremely premature infants," Flake says. "This would be a huge deal."

But others say the device raises ethical issues, including many questions about whether it would ever be acceptable to test it on humans.

"There are all kinds of possibilities for stress and pain with not, at the beginning, a whole lot of likelihood for success," says Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University.

Flake says ethical concerns need to be balanced against the risk of death and severe disabilities babies often suffer when they are born very prematurely. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A human device would be designed for those born 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Only about half of such babies survive and, of those that do, about 90 percent suffer severe complications, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, seizures, paralysis, blindness and deafness, Flake says.

About 30,000 babies are born earlier than 26 weeks into pregnancy each year in the United States, according to the researchers.

Potential ethical concerns

Davis worries that the device is not necessarily a good solution for human fetuses.

"If it's a difference between a baby dying rather peacefully and a baby dying under conditions of great stress and discomfort then, no, I don't think it's better," Davis says.

"If it's a question of a baby dying versus a baby being born who then needs to live its entire life in an institution, then I don't think that's better. Some parents might think that's better, but many would not," she says.

And even if it works, Davis also worries about whether this could blur the line between a fetus and a baby.

"Up to now, we've been either born or not born. This would be halfway born, or something like that. Think about that in terms of our abortion politics," she says.

Some worry that others could take this technology further. Other scientists are already keeping embryos alive in their labs longer then ever before, and trying to create human sperm, eggs and even embryo-like entities out of stem cells. One group recently created an artificial version of the female reproductive system in the lab.

"I could imagine a time, you know sort of [a] 'Brave New World,' where we're growing embryos from the beginning to the end outside of our bodies. It would be a very Gattaca-like world," says Davis, referring to the 1997 science-fiction film.

There's also a danger such devices might be used coercively. States could theoretically require women getting abortions to put their fetuses into artificial wombs, says Scott Gelfand, a bioethicist at Oklahoma State University.

Employers could also require female employees to use artificial wombs to avoid maternity leave, he says. Insurers could require use of the device to avoid costly complicated pregnancies and deliveries.

"The ethical implications are just so far-reaching," Gelfand says.

Barbara Katz Rothman, a sociologist at the City University of New York, says more should be done to prevent premature births. She worries about the technological transformation of pregnancy.

"The problem is a baby raised in a machine is denied a human connection," Rothman says. "I think that's a scary, tragic thing."

Flake says his team has no interest in trying to gestate a fetus any earlier than about 23 weeks into pregnancy.

"I want to make this very clear: We have no intention and we've never had any intention with this technology of extending the limits of viability further back," Flake says. "I think when you do that you open a whole new can of worms.

Flake doubts anything like that would ever be possible.

"That's a pipe dream at this point," Flake says.

sign up for newsletter

Topics: Premature Babies, artificial womb

Crocheted Octopus Dolls Helping Preemies Thrive

Posted by Pat Magrath

Mon, Mar 06, 2017 @ 11:44 AM

octopuses-for-premies-1-tease-today-170208_029cc7ee69d2eaefb9b3bd943944b746.today-inline-large.jpgDo you or someone you know, love to knit or crochet? Perhaps you’d be interested in putting those skills to work for a terrific cause. 
 
Check out what they’re doing in England and other parts of the world to help preemies thrive. By crocheting an octopus and giving it to the little one, the baby has something soft to hang on to and is comforted. The baby is less apt to pull out their tubes too. The crocheted octopus represents something familiar, comforting and soft. 
 
How sweet is that, that something so simple can help a little one survive?

One hospital in Dorset, England has stumbled upon an unusual way of making tiny premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) feel safe and comforted: by giving them a tiny handmade octopus to curl up with.

jasmine-amber-today-170206_c51a01fe4f0f48e00a3c5edcb1981e06.today-inline-large.jpg

According to Poole Hospital, where the practice of pairing preemies with crocheted cephalopods has become an ongoing ritual, these cuddly crafts do more than just calm the babies.

The idea originally hails from Denmark where Aarhus University Hospital has suggested that the creatures can actually help smaller babies grow and thrive. A spokesperson for Poole hospital stated that the decision to introduce the crocheted crafts to patients wasn’t based on published scientific research but contact with other hospitals who had found they made a noticeable difference to their little patients.

But it can't be just any toy. It must be an octopus.

So why these sea creatures exactly? The design of the crocheted tentacles gives the babies something to hold and squeeze, and that can be a good thing for regulating everything from oxygen intake to heartbeats. What's more, the tentacles might be helpful at keeping the tiny patients from pulling out their tubes.

A number of babies at Poole Hospital took to their new toys especially well. In a feature that in the Daily Echo last fall, it was revealed that premature twin sisters Jasmine and Amber Smith-Leach both benefited from the comfort of their new toys. Their neonatal nurses said they have no doubt these tiny octopuses have helped the girls.

What's more, in response to the story, the hospital's NICU has received a whole new supply of crocheted octopuses for future patients.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the kind response to our appeal for crochet octopi,” said Daniel Lockyer, matron of neonatal services. “We’ve now received over 200 octopi and have a year’s supply ready and waiting for our little patients! We’re not looking for anymore octopi for a little while so we can use these up.”

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the kind response to our appeal for crochet octopi,” said Daniel Lockyer, matron of neonatal services. “We’ve now received over 200 octopi and have a year’s supply ready and waiting for our little patients! We’re not looking for anymore octopi for a little while so we can use these up.”

Find the Octopus Pattern on our Pinterest!

sign up for newsletter

Topics: Preemies, Premature Babies

Dear NICU Nurse

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Wed, Oct 02, 2013 @ 10:58 AM

Dear NICU Nurse,

To be honest, I never knew you existed. Back when our birth plan included a fat baby, balloons and a two-day celebratory hospital stay, I had never seen you. I had never seen a NICU. Most of the world hasn't. There may have been a brief, "This is the Neonatal floor" whilst drudging by on a hospital tour. But no one really knows what happens behind those alarm-secured, no-window-gazing doors of the NICU. Except me. And you.

2013-09-15-tcker.jpg

I didn't know that you would be the one to hold and rock my baby when I wasn't there. I didn't know that you would be the one to take care of him the first five months of his life as I sat bedside, watching and wishing that I was you. I didn't know that you would be the one to hand him to me for the first time, three weeks after he was born. That you would know his signals, his faces, and his cries. Sometimes better than me. I didn't know you. I didn't know how intertwined our lives would become.

I know you now. I'll never be able to think of my child's life without thinking of you.

I know that in the NICU, you really run things. That your opinions about my baby's care often dictates the course and direction or treatment as you consult with the neonatologist every day. I know that you don't hesitate to wake a sometimes-sleeping doctor in the nearby call room because my baby's blood gas number is bad. Or because his color is off. Or because he has had four bradys in the last 45 minutes. Or because there's residual brown gunk in his OG tube.

I know now that you are different from other nurses.

I know that, at times, you are assigned to just one baby for 12 hours straight. You are assigned to him because he is the most critically-sick and medically fragile baby in the unit. I've seen you sit by that baby's bedside for your entire shift. Working tirelessly to get him comfortable and stable. Forgoing breaks while you mentally will his numbers to improve. I've seen you cry with his family when he doesn't make it. I've seen you cry alone.

I've seen you, in an instant, come together as a team when chaos ensues. And let's be honest, chaos and NICU are interchangeable words. When the beeper goes off signaling emergency 24-weeker triplets are incoming. When three babies in the same pod are crashing at the same time. When the power goes off and you're working from generators. In those all too often chaotic moments, you know that time is more critical in this unit than any other, and you don't waste it. You bond together instantly as a team, methodically resolving the crisis until the normal NICU rhythm is restored.

Yes. I know you now. I'll never be able to give in return what you have given to me. Thank you for answering my endless questions, even when I had asked them before. Thank you for your skill; you are pretty great at what you do. Thank you for fighting for my baby. Thank you for pretending like it was normal when I handed you a vial of just pumped breast milk. Thank you for agreeing to play Beatles lullabies in my baby's crib when I was gone. Thank you for waking the doctor. Thank you for texting me pictures of my sweet miracle, even when it was against hospital policy. Thank you for crying with me on the day we were discharged.

Most of the world still doesn't know what you do. They can't understand how integral you are to the positive outcomes of these babies who started life so critically ill. But I do. I know you now. I will never forget you. In fact, our story can never be told without mentioning you. So the next time you wave your access card to enter the place that few eyes have seen, know that you are appreciated. I know you, and you are pretty amazing.

Your fan forever,

A NICU mom

This post originally appeared on Preemie Babies 101  

Source: Huffington Post 

Topics: Dear Nicu Nurse, Neonatal Intensive Care, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, New Mother, Nicu Nurse, Nicu Nurses, Moms, Preemie, Preemie Babies, Preemies, Premature Babies, Parents News, NICU

Click me

Article or Blog Submissions

If you are interested in submitting content for our Blog, please ensure it fits the criteria below:
  • Relevant information for Nurses
  • Does NOT promote a product
  • Informative about Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Agreement to publish on our DiversityNursing.com Blog is at our sole discretion.

Thank you

Subscribe to Email our eNewsletter

Posts by Topic

see all