The rapid pace of research in fertility and reproduction, raises some mind-boggling questions about the future.

Can we conceive and grow babies entirely in laboratories?

Will marriage, sex, and pregnancy become a thing of the past?

What if we could bypass menopause, infertility, and premature birth?

Could this technology also help countries with declining birth rates?

40 years ago, the first I V F baby, named Louise Brown was born.

Today I V F is commonplace, and we can only imagine what else might become commonplace in the next 40 years. 

A so-called “Exowomb”, sometimes referred to as an artificial uterus, is a device that can provide nutrients, hormones, and oxygen to nurture a fetus, as well as dispose of waste material. 

An outer shell made of human cells holds the developing embryo, while artificial amniotic fluid promotes muscular and skeletal growth. 

The famous sci fi film, the matrix, shows a diss toe peean world, where machines grow millions of humans in artificial wombs, with tubes attached to the fetuses, bringing in everything needed to grow a human being and help it survive.

In the book “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, people are grown in vats, at a place called, “the social predestination room”.

This idea is called, Ecto genesis, defined as the growth of an organism in an artificial environment, particularly in artificial or Synthetic wombs. 

The term was coined by the British scientist, J.B.S. Haldane, who predicted that the artificial uterus, would be responsible for 30 percent of births, by the year 20 74.

And his prediction might not be far off, because there are 3 big Ecto genesis projects in progress.

First, the E U F I, second, the Biobag project, and third, the Artificial uterus for humans.

The very first artificial womb ever to be created was the E U F I, or “extrauterine fetal incubation” system.

It was invented 2 decades ago, by Doctor Yoshinori Koowa barra, of June Ten doe University in Tokyo.

Since then, his team had successfully gestated goat fetuses inside incubators, by threading cath Etters through large vessels in the umbilical cord, and supplying the fetuses with oxygenated blood.

The E U F I also contained artificial amniotic fluid heated to body temperature, mimicking conditions in the mother’s womb.

The scientists were able to keep the goat fetuses in this environment for 3 weeks, but eventually ran into problems with circulatory failure.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the blood pressure and other conditions just right.

However, a different Exowomb developed this year overcame those problems, housing the fetus for months rather than weeks.

This brings us to the biobag, an artificial womb for lambs, developed by doctors at the children’s hospital of Philidelphia.

In a study published this year in the journal nature, called “An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb”, a team of scientists successfully brought a dozen premature lambs to full term, in an artificial womb outside their mother’s body.

The re searchers called these fake wombs “Biobags”, since the exowombs essentially looked like big plastic sacks, using a pumpless circulatory system and artificial amniotic fluid.

Here is how it looks like. 

The main difficulty was mimicking the mother’s blood flows to her baby, which cannot be done with an external pump. This is because the blood pressure has to stay within a narrow range, to avoid damaging the baby’s heart.

The re searchers managed to overcome this problem, by connecting the fetus’s umbilical blood vessels to an oxygenating apparatus, where the baby’s heartbeat itself powered the blood flow.

Mimicking the purifying effect of the mother’s kidneys wasn’t easy either, but was also overcome by installing an umbilical cord connection to a fluid exchange apparatus.

The lambs were transferred to these biobags 105 days after fertilization, which is the human equivalent, of 22 weeks in fetal development.

They were isolated in the sterile environment, protected from changes in pressure or light, and developed naturally.

These artificial wombs were used to house the lambs, despite them being prematurely born at half their full gestation period, and the implications for humans could be unfathomable.

For starters, more than a third of infant deaths in the US are due to prematurity, mostly to do with the complications of their underdeveloped organs. 

Premature babies also have respiratory problems related to their lungs, being forced to transition from liquid to air ventilation, before they’re ready.

It is the leading cause of death for newborns worldwide, but the Biobag allows the lungs and other organs to develop just like they would inside a mother’s body.

The leed researcher, doctor Emily Partridge, believes this system can be translated into a clinical therapy for human fetuses as well, which are only one third the size of lamb fetuses.

That way premature human babies could be brought to term, by having them spend the rest of the pregnancy in these bio bags.

This brings us to the human womb project. 

Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, Director of the Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at Cornell University, is working on a device to help women conceive and gestate babies.

In 2003, her team successfully grew a mouse embryo, almost to full term, using engineered endometrium tissue and extra-uterine scaffolding.

But recently, the team managed to house a human embryo for ten whole days, all in an artificial womb.

Unfortunately, it is illegal for her to go any further than that, the law only allows a 2 week limit for controversial projects like this.

But once she receives the legal green light, her goal is to eventually create a fully functioning external womb. 

The artificial womb uses an amniotic fluid aquarium, with feeding tubes and monitoring cables, which helps save premature born babies from death.

For the first time in human history, we can now incubate human fetuses outside the womb.

Don’t get me wrong, bona Fyde human trials with infertile parents who want to conceive, are still years away.

But the discourse of its ethical implications has already begun.

Overall, artificial wombs may sound like a far-fetched sci fi concept, but the technology is getting better by the day.

This brings us to the question of whether people would even want to use them in the first place.

There are many reasons.

Firstly, giving birth is still medically dangerous to mothers, and artificial wombs can definitely help raise a nation’s average life expectancy.

Second, more women are becoming full-time workers, so they just don’t have the time.

Third, Menopausal Women who missed their chance will now be allowed to have children. Same for infertile women with damaged or dysfunctional uteruses.

Fourth, rich couples in first world countries who can afford to have many children, now have the option to do so, and it might even fix declining birth rates back to the 2.1 replacement rate.

They could afford to have as many as 20 children if they wanted.

Fifth, the baby could even be healthier, with a carefully measured diet, optimized development, and constantly monitored bodily functions.

Sixth, it can keep the baby safe if the mother gets sick or develops a medical condition.

And Lastly, giving birth is simply painful, energetically demanding, stressful, and comes with a lot of responsibility, so women will flock to it, in an effort to make their lives easier. 

Couples half a century from now, may well be watching their babies grow in artificial incubators, getting lyve updates on their phone 24 7. 

But make no mistake, there are dangers as well.

What if this severs the last remaining bond between the 2 genders?

What if the artificial womb deprives a fetus of the intimacy, that its mother’s body provides?

What if the mechanical womb affects the baby’s ability, to form a psychological attachment to its mother? 

There are also very real concerns that children grown in an artificial womb, won’t be able to bond with their mother, when they’re developing inside her.

Although child development is not well understood, there is still a risk it might lead to Child hood trawma and other serious effects down the road.

Since this technology would allow single men to have children by themselves, would they start to view women as expendable?

If wombs become obsolete, would they come to see women as just physically inferior men?

It is also likely people with religious concerns will rally hard against the technology.

As many see natural birth as sacred.

It might even eliminate our civilization’s need for sex.

While we might still do it for recreation, it will be unnecessary for procreation. 

You can essentially create eggs and sperm out of your own stem cells and design your own person, without even needing to get married.

In addition to single parents, governments and corporations might also be able to create children, which brings up the ethical consequences of creating a child without parents.

In Conclusion, the technology is a few years off, but the ethical concerns, have arrived, today.

After all, the procedure of freezing eggs was also once fairly unsuccessful, but these days, 90 percent of the eggs survive.

The same rapid progress is starting to happen with Ectogenesis technology.

Babies today can survive despite being born at 24 weeks, something that would have been unthinkable in the 19 seventies.

Despite all this, I do not think sex will become extinct. While it may no longer be necessary for procreation, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun. 

While we are a many years away from artificial wombs, we still can’t ignore the fact, that babies are spending an ever-increasing amount of time, outside the human body. We should be careful what we wish for, because, we just might get it.

 

 

 

 

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/YouTube

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