25 July 2007

Mass Producing Babies--Toward an Artificial Womb

There is a strong need for reliable artificial wombs in the developed world. Women are as deeply immersed in work and careers as men--not to mention just as vain about their appearance as men. They do not wish to sacrifice the time, and the wear and tear, that pregnancy and childbirth entails.
Teruo Fujii of the University of Tokyo in Japan and his colleagues are building a microfluidic chip to nurture the first stages of pregnancy. They hope, eventually, to create a fully automated artificial uterus in which egg and sperm are fed in at one end and an early embryo comes out the other, ready for implanting in a real mother. They say using such a device could improve the success rate of IVF.

.... Fujii’s team has created a “lab on a chip” that is 2 millimetres across and 0.5 millimetres high, in which up to 20 eggs can be fertilised and then grown until they are ready for implantation. Endometrial cells, which line real wombs, are also grown in the device, so that the chemicals they produce can reach the embryos and help them grow.

“We are providing the embryos with a much more comfortable environment, mimicking what happens in the body,” Fujii says.

Experiments in mice suggest that the chip is more successful than traditional IVF at producing embryos that will grow into healthy fetuses. Of 50 fertilised eggs grown on the chip, 30 developed into early embryos, compared to 26 out of 50 fertilised eggs grown through “microdrop” IVF. Here a drop of mineral oil is used to cover the fertilised egg and a small volume of culture fluid to stop the egg drying out. In a separate experiment, Fujii’s team implanted embryos grown on the chip into mice and found that 44 per cent of them developed into healthy fetuses, compared to 40 per cent of those grown in microdrops. “It’s not just about more embryos surviving to be implanted, they also seem to be doing better once they are implanted,” says Wheeler.

....For now the sperm and eggs are still prepared for fertilisation manually but the researchers are working towards automating those steps too. Wheeler’s team has already automated them, but has not compared his chip-grown embryos with ones produced by conventional IVF, nor grown endometrial cells on a chip. He suggests that combining his approach with Fujii’s might produce even better results.

The chip could also be used for growing genetically modified animals, stem cells and cloned embryos, he adds.

For now, these chip-conceived embryos will be implanted into a living female host. Eventually, living wombs outside the bodies of females will receive the embryo implants. Further on, completely artificial wombs designed and grown for this purpose would act as recipients of embryos, and incubators for the developing fetus.

When the fertilisation process is automated, and the subsequent pregnancy takes place entirely in an artificial womb, pregnancy will be within the reach of anyone who possesses both sperm and egg--or anyone who can afford to buy them.

Sperm is successfully frozen and used years later. Egg freezing will eventually reach the same degree of reliability. Certainly embryos themselves can be frozen for years before being implanted. The entire process of fertilisation, pregnancy, and childbirth are being revolutionised before our eyes.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brave New World, anyone?

But seriously, I like your blog, Keep it up! (Oh and check mine out if you like, although my content is nowhere near as detailed.)

Wednesday, 25 July, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Brave New World--exactly!

Thanks for the comment.

I appreciate the work you are putting into living a rational life, as per your blog.

Friday, 27 July, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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