Some media echo an investigation published in the Chinese magazine «Journal of Biomedical Engineering», developed by researchers from the Suzhou Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, in China, who claim to have built an artificial uterus capable of simulating the functions of the maternal uterus in humans, although the experiments carried out to date have been with rats, given the ethical limits established for experimentation with human embryos.
Although the aforementioned medium speaks of a technique aimed at a future replacement of the maternal uterus in human gestation by this device that would provide the embryo with the same conditions of natural gestation, this does not seem to be the object of the finding.
According to the promoters of the study, the aim is to design an instrument that will increase the chances of survival without sequelae in very premature infants, babies born around the 24th week of gestation whose chances of staying alive without suffering serious deficiencies are limited, although They are making great progress in intensive perinatal medicine that allows many of these premature babies to evolve healthy.
There are previous experiments in this sense, which have been tested with lambs and which also aspire to be uterine substitutes in cases of very premature babies, improving their survival free of sequelae (see more). But to affirm, based on this latest work, that the possibility of substituting human gestation «without the need of a mother» is close, as the aforementioned newspaper affirms, is going too far. Pregnancy, and specifically human pregnancy, is a highly complex process, of which many of its mechanisms and biological processes are still unknown. What is being talked about in these trials is prolonging the uterine environment in very premature infants to allow them a degree of maturation that improves their chances of survival without sequelae, which is something very different from promoting pregnancy from the initial stages of embryonic development, something much more complex, which to date does not seem likely to occur in the coming years.
As we already indicated in its day regarding the development of artificial placentas tested with lambs intended for very premature infants, this finding constitutes excellent scientific and ethical news, because it can contribute to the survival and health of these neonates when the technique is applicable. definitely in humans, something that has not yet occurred. The same could be said of the experiment that concerns us now, which would be nothing more than an evolution of those artificial placentas of 5 years ago, constituting an artificial environment more similar to a uterus that could be more effective in contributing to the maturational development of large premature babies .
But affirming that this is a step to «liberate women from pregnancy» and «increase fertility rates» in environments at risk of demographic collapse such as in China and first world countries, because it would allow «producing individuals artificially ”, in an industrialized process, is to move away from the scientific evidence, from the common sense of the limits of ethical acceptability. Regardless of the technical difficulties that a supposed artificial gestation would imply in its entirety, impossible to resolve today and in the coming years, it should be noted that gestation is much more than the biological support and nutrition of an embryo or fetus. The interaction between the surrogate mother and her child during pregnancy goes much further and involves immunological, metabolic, genetic and psychological factors (see more), which «make up the baby and its mother, as some studies on the brain modifications of the woman after the pregnancy in addition to the genetic exchanges between the pregnant woman and her child during pregnancy, still not well known today (see HERE).
Some of those presented as scientific advances hide serious risks of setbacks for humanity, and this could be one of those cases, when a tool intended to preserve life and improve the health of very premature infants is intended to distort by presenting it as an alternative to natural gestation, which would not contribute at all, for the reasons stated, to the comprehensive health of the unborn child and his mother.
Observatorio de Bioética
Instituto Ciencias de la Vida
Universidad Católica de Valencia