In 2002 Hung-Ching Liu, at Cornell University, in the United States, announced that her team had successfully grown a sample of cells from the lining of a human uterus and had used tissue engineering technologies to shape them like a womb.
When a fertilised human egg was introduced into the womb, it implanted into the uterus wall as it would in a natural pregnancy. The experiment was ceased at six days’ gestation, because of legal limits on human embryo experimentation.
Japanese scientists brought goat foetuses to full term using so-called “uterine tanks” after removing them mid-pregancy from their mother’s womb.
In further womb research by Dr Liu’s team, mouse embryos were grown nearly to term in artificial wombs but, as in the Japanese experiments, the newborn animals did not survive.
Artificial wombs are not yet safe for human pregnancies. But if, as expected, the technology can one day be applied in human beings, scientific advantages may result.
A truly mixed bag: Good for preterm babies, bad for a whole host of other potentially unethical uses, not to speak of the experimentation required to get to a point of success.