researchers at Tokyo's Juntendo University have released pictures of an artificial womb which has been used to bring a 17-week-old goat foetus to 'birth', three weeks later. The team, led by Yoshinore Kuwabara, professor of obstetrics at Juntendo University, removed a goat embryo from its 17-week-pregnant mother and then placed it in an open-topped transparent acrylic tank, filled with liquid at blood temperature.
They believe that in 10 years time, the same technology could be used to improve the survival of premature human babies, and to provide an alternative womb in the case of mothers bearing multiple foetuses. Although some have expressed fears that it could lead to a scenario described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World , where millions are bred in sterile incubators, the team emphasised that their system cannot replace the crucial stage in which the fertilised egg grows through the embryo stage.
But, it could eventually help premature babies, who are frequently unable to get enough oxygen into their blood because their lungs have not developed fully. Similarly, in multiple pregnancies it would be possible to make space in the womb by removing some of the developing embryos.