Each year in the Netherlands, 700 extremely premature children (24-28 weeks) are born. An artificial womb in which a premature baby can stay for 4 weeks could significantly increase the baby’s chances and quality of life. Scientists have been working for years on the design and production of an artificial womb; a ‘new incubator’. This is both a clinical, technological and ethical challenge, and many steps have yet to be taken. Dr. ir. Frank Delbressine, Assistant Professor in the Future Everyday cluster at TU/e, and working on the Artificial Womb, will tell u all about this innovation.
Photo by Bart van Overbeeke
Transferring the baby to the artificial womb poses many challenges. The baby cannot yet breathe oxygen as its lungs are not sufficiently developed; this would lead to brain damage. TU/e researchers have devised a procedure using a fluid-filled biobag that enables the baby to be safely transferred to the artificial womb. The biobag is now being extensively tested using an artificial umbilical cord and robotic dolls that look like newborn babies and can respond to oxygen deprivation.
There is also a focus on parents and their child attachment. For example, a draft design of the artificial womb allows parents to stay close to their baby and includes a womb phone so they can listen, or sing a song.
It is expected to take at least 8 to 10 years before the first artificial womb can be safely put into use.
Dr. ir. Frank Delbressine is Assistant Professor in the Future Everyday cluster at TU/e. He leads the Medical Simulation laboratory, the Mobility Laboratory and the Neonatal Simulation lab. Delbressine is interested in Smart Mobility and in Health-related industrial design. He has a background in mechanical design, engineering and manufacturing.
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