Mice get artificial ovaries, sheep get artificial wombs
May 17, 2017 10:04 PM   Subscribe

In April, researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia announced that they had created an artificial womb and successfully nurtured premature lambs in it. On Tuesday, researchers from Northwestern University announced that they had created an artificial ovary from gelatin which led to successful births in mice.
posted by clawsoon (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The ovary one is promising, but the artificial womb story is pure body horror.
posted by My Dad at 10:38 PM on May 17, 2017

It looks considerably more like a ziploc bag than I imagined the future would
posted by fshgrl at 10:48 PM on May 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've seen several reactions to this around the internet, many people seem pretty unnerved by the womb thing. I think it's an amazing step in a fantastic direction. I personally have two friends whose single weak link in the reproductive system is the uterus. Everything else is in perfect shape, but the uterus itself (for different reasons each) cannot support a baby for the duration of a pregnancy. If this development continues in the direction it's going, who knows, maybe they'll be able to have kids.

Not to mention all the women who might prefer for personal reasons to gestate outside the body, if that becomes a safe and equal option from the start. IVF might end up considerably less invasive!
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 12:04 AM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

(Yes, I have considered the possible political ramifications of lowering the point of viability in a pregnancy. The researchers say that this version of the idea only works down to about 23 weeks though, so I find myself clinging to the hope that by the time we get to a point where a fetus can be viable considerably earlier, we'll have had the conversation and it will have resulted in not being awful to women.)
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 12:17 AM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

In an ideal world, there would be an option to induce extremely early labor (15 weeks, say) and then to transplant the fetus into an artificial uterus for its hypothetical loving adoptive parents to pick up.

In a dystopian world, this will be used as an excuse to justify banning late term abortions for severely disabled fetuses, given that 20 weeks is when testing becomes possible.

I know which one I expect to see. It's not the one I might have hoped for in October.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:24 AM on May 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

Will it be good or bad that the poor of the future will be unable earn income as surrogates?
posted by timdiggerm at 5:22 AM on May 18, 2017

In an ideal world, there would be an option to induce extremely early labor (15 weeks, say) and then to transplant the fetus into an artificial uterus for its hypothetical loving adoptive parents to pick up.

This is a technological solution I fervently hope for.
posted by corb at 5:34 AM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

O, brave new world, that has such wonders in it.

These developments could help people like me have children in the future.
posted by Gadgetenvy at 5:41 AM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

In an ideal world, separating women from the means of production would finally allow for women's liberation.

In this world...
posted by schadenfrau at 5:41 AM on May 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

schadenfrau: In this world...

In this world, Quiverfull will eventually get its hands on this technology. "Now one woman can have 50 children! 100! What a blessing from God!"
posted by clawsoon at 6:19 AM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah this will be a boon to women in reasonably advanced societies (though their numbers will probably drop to 40 percent or so in the younger cohorts); in other societies women will make up about ten percent of the population or less, and will continue to have shitty lives.
posted by Hypatia at 6:22 AM on May 18, 2017

When we invent artificial organs, people will no longer be able to sell their kidneys, either. Or, perhaps sooner, their blood and platelets.

I see this as a net positive for everyone.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:23 AM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agent Smith and the other machines will really appreciate us working all of this out ahead of time for them.
posted by XMLicious at 6:25 AM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Although the potential ethical implications of the artifical womb thing are myriad and frightening, I think it's a really promising research direction for supporting extremely preterm fetuses. I've watched a baby born at 23.5 weeks (in my extended family) die a slow and painful death in the NICU from necrotizing enterocolitis, while her sister (born at just a few weeks greater gestation) had a long stressful NICU stay but ultimately thrived. A support system that meets the fetus at its developmental stage, rather than rushing its immature lungs and intestines to survive on air and milk, could be invaluable in improving not only survival rates, but also quality of life.

Unrelatedly, I have to squee that I work with the Northwestern researchers, and they do great work. Teresa Woodruff in particular has been involved in a number of important efforts: She's best known for her oncofertility work (preserving fertility in young cancer patients). She's also helped to spearhead the notion that federally funded biomedical research must consider sex as a biological variable, and get that implemented as policy. She's also helped to create educational materials on reproductive health for a variety of age groups: preteens, college students, adults.

Ramille Shah's 3D printed biomaterials are pretty damn cool too.

(And yes. It's fabulous to have strong female scientists floating around.)
posted by telepanda at 7:01 AM on May 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

Mice get artificial ovaries, sheep get artificial wombs

Artificial pigs say "La La La."

sorry. way, way too much time reading Sandra Boynton books out loud these days...
posted by Naberius at 7:01 AM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

So there's a book I highly recommend, Ethan of Athos (by Lois Mcmaster Bujold), where artificial wombs (uterine replicators) have made it possible for an all-cis-male religious society to colonize a planet and survive without any cis women, and the main character is an obstetrician on this all-male planet.

It's an interesting and nuanced look, and it lets them be misogynist without actually hurting any women - but anyway. If anyone is interested. Uterine replicators are part of the story in her other books too.

Like every other tool in history it will be used to privilege some people, liberate others, and oppress still others. But it's still very much worth developing.

(edit note there is no treatment of trans issues in the book at all but there is a romance between two dudes)
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:04 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

After telepanda's response, I'm a little ashamed of my own contribution. Here we have women who are great scientists working on women's health issues, and - tell me this isn't illustrative of something - women's health automatically translates into science fiction dystopia.
posted by clawsoon at 7:52 PM on May 18, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold will be thrilled to hear this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:13 PM on May 18, 2017

Decoupling people's uteri from the process of creating new humans is, as far as i can tell, a necessary but not sufficient condition for the liberation of women and other people with uteri. As long as we're the means of production, people are going to try to control us. It'd be really nice if it did propel us along that road. In the world we currently live in, though, it's probably not going to work in that direction at all (as schadenfrau said).
posted by adrienneleigh at 1:34 AM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

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