March 17th, 2021
It takes about 20 days for a mouse to gestate to the point where it can survive outside the womb. So far, the mechanical womb Dr. Hanna and his team have created can sustain the mice through 11 days of growth. It's at that point, in what would be more than halfway through a regular pregnancy, that the mice die off. The embryos become too large to survive on merely the nutrients they absorb through diffusion. They need a blood supply, and that's the next technical challenge the team plans to solve. One potential solution on the table includes an artificial blood supply that could connect to mice's placentas, Dr. Hanna told The NY Times.
Before you run for the hills, know that Dr. Hanna's team didn't create the device to disrupt nature's natural order. Instead, they're using their process to study how factors like genetic mutations and environmental conditions can affect the growth of a fetus while inside the womb. Until this breakthrough, scientists had turned to species like worms and frogs — that is, non-mammals — to study the development of tissues and organs. A similar device may one day allow scientists to grow a human baby in the same way, but that's something that's years and decades away, provided it's even possible.