Scientists were able to grow the embryo of a mammal out of a uterus for the first time.
In a study published Wednesday on Nature , a team of researchers from Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel he claims to have cultivated successfully more than 1.000 mouse embryos for six days using a process involving a mechanical artificial uterus.
Doctor Jacob Hanna, one of the project researchers, reports that his team was able to take an embryo from a female mouse immediately after fertilization and grow it for 11 days. What is most relevant: the embryos grown in the laboratory look completely identical to their "real" counterparts.
The way to the artificial uterus
It took the team seven years to build the machine used in this research. It is a two-part system which consists of an incubator and a ventilation system. Each of the embryos floats in a vial filled with a special nutrient-rich fluid. A wheel gently turns the embryos so that they do not stick to the walls of this artificial uterus. This prevents them from deforming and dying. Meanwhile, ventilation delivers oxygen to the embryos while maintaining constant flow and pressure.
The next challenges
It takes about 20 days for a mouse to grow to the point where it can survive outside the womb. So far, as mentioned, the mechanical artificial uterus created by Dr. Hanna and her team can support mice for 11 days of growth. They have not yet managed to go further: after 11 days the embryos become too large to survive on the nutrients provided by the system alone. They need a blood supply, and this is the next technical challenge the team intends to solve. Among the hypotheses being studied, that of providing an artificial blood supply connected to the placenta of mice.
For science, not against nature
Don't think that humanity is grown in pods like in science fiction movies. Dr. Hanna did not create the device to disrupt the natural order of nature. Instead, the team says they want to develop the artificial uterus to study how factors such as genetic mutations and environmental conditions can affect the growth of a fetus in the womb.
Until this breakthrough, scientists studied species such as worms and frogs, i.e. non-mammals, to study the development of tissues and organs. Such a device could change everything.