If placing super premature babies into fluid-filled bags sounds inhumane, consider that they are currently hooked up to invasive machines in sterile compartments with a survival rate around 50%, with many going on to struggle to do basic things like see, hear, walk, and talk. Researchers testing a new "bio bag" on premature lambs are finding surprising success, and hope that in the next decade or so human babies born on the very edge of viability—born after just 23 to 25 weeks gestation—might have a greater chance of survival in a womb-like environment, reports the Atlantic. They would be delivered via C-section and placed inside the bio-bag immediately after birth; a drug would prevent them from taking in any air after delivery (which is what halts lung development) and they would continue getting oxygen through their umbilical cords once inside the bio-bag.
In the US alone, 30,000 babies are born "critically preterm," before 26 weeks, at a time so early in their development they are "not ready to be here," a research fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) says. After multiple trials, a team at CHOP says they've hit on a system that closely mimics the womb, with a circuit driven by the fetal heart oxygenating the blood at normal levels through the umbilical cord, reports Science. The lambs in the trial continued developing normally in the bio-bags for up to 4 weeks, and one of them has now lived more than a year; more animal testing is in the works, with human testing at least three years away. Researchers say this isn't intended to deliver babies any earlier, but simply to give those born critically preterm a better chance—in a gentler environment—to survive. (Docs were able to keep this baby developing in his brain-dead mother's womb after a car accident.)