Premature birth affects approximately 1 in 10 babies worldwide. Infants born between 28 and 37 weeks are currently transferred to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), to support their heart and lung development. For extremely premature infants (<28 weeks), however, exposure to air is very harsh on their organs and may lead to long-term cardiac, neurological and metabolic problems or complications in breathing. Despite advances in medicine and technology, current care in the NICU is a far from optimal substitute for the protective environment of the natural maternal womb.
The perinatal life support (PLS) project researchers are working on a solution for this by designing a new environment for premature babies similar to that of the maternal womb. In the PLS solution, a baby is transferred to a new environment, called a perinatal life support system, to ease the transition to newborn life. In this “artificial womb”, the infant would be provided with a supply of oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord and an artificial placenta. This environment allows organs to mature and develop more naturally.
The PLS project will also address the major challenge of pre-clinical safety testing by using breakthrough simulation technology. The birth of extremely premature infants will be mimicked using a manikin with advanced monitoring and computational modeling to provide information on the fetal status and treatment.