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In the field of ectogenesis, an artificial uterus (or womb) is a mechanism that is used to grow an embryo outside of the body of a female organism that would normally internally carry the embryo to term.

An artificial uterus, as a replacement organ, could also be used to assist women with damaged or diseased uteri to be able to conceive to term. Since the uterus is grown from the woman's own endometrial cells, there would be minimal chance of organ rejection.

Contents

Methods

Potential methods to create an artificial uterus include culturing of endometrial cells removed from a human donor to grow a uterus, and tanks replacing the amniotic sac.

In addition to these, the uterus would have to be supplied by nutrients and oxygen from some source to nurture a fetus, as well as dispose of waste material.

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Growing from endometrial cells

Primary research into the engineering of an artificial uterus was conducted at the Cornell University Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility,[1] under Dr. Hung-Ching Liu.[2] In the year 2002 Dr. Liu announced that she and her team had grown tissue samples from cultured endometrial cells removed from a human donor. The tissue sample was then engineered to form the shape of a natural uterus, and human embryos were then implanted into the tissue. The researchers found that the embryos correctly implanted into the artificial uterus' lining and started to grow. Dr. Liu's experiments were halted after six days, to stay within the permitted legal limits of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) legislation in the United States.

Amniotic tanks

Another form of artificial uterus is one in which tanks are filled with amniotic fluid which is maintained at body temperature, and the embryonic umbilical cords are attached to external pumps which regulate nutrient intake and waste outflow. A potential advantage of such a system is that it would allow the fetus to develop in an environment that is not influenced by the presence of disease, environmental pollutants, alcohol, or drugs which the mother may have in her circulatory system. However, it would also not benefit from the protection of the mother's immune system. Alternatively, it would also reduce the chances of miscarriage and premature births by allowing the embryo to develop full term outside the mother's uterus, transferred after the initial 17 weeks of implantation. Such research was being conducted by Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara (d: 2000) at Juntendo University in Tokyo. Additionally, a research team in Australia has developed artificial wombs with the purpose of mass producing/breeding the endangered Grey Nurse Shark[3].

Potential for controversy

Although the technology does not currently exist to raise an embryo from conception to full development outside of a human body, the possibility of such technology raises questions with respect to cloning and abortion. The elimination of the need for a living uterus would make cloning easier to carry out and yet harder for legal authorities to track. At the same time, the capacity to raise an unwanted fetus apart from the mother would allow the option of fetus adoption, but might raise concerns with respect to children born with no connection to a parent. Some pro-life groups argue that this would allow a father to have a choice in whether to carry a pregnancy to term. Some people would even argue that this would make it acceptable to ban abortion, since the fetus would be able to survive outside of the uterus from the first day, thereby avoiding any possible undue burden. Some currently pro-choice people may even find it acceptable to ban abortion if artificial uteri become available, since the woman would still be allowed to have the fetus removed from her body.

In fiction

The use of the artificial uterus has played a significant role in science fiction:

  • The most famous depiction was by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 novel, Brave New World. In Huxley's dystopian future, children are grown in artificial wombs before being decanted into the world.
  • A far-future version of artificial reproduction was featured in the Arthur C. Clarke novel The City and the Stars (1956) where the citizens of Diaspar, the ultimate city, emerge from the Hall of Creation as young adults, live for 1,000 years, then return to the Hall of Creation where their chosen memories are stored and the people disincarnated. At some future time, determined by the Central Computer, they will be embodied again.
  • A scenario similar to Huxley's is true for Logan's Run, where embryos are extracted from impregnated women to be grown in meccano-breeders by a computer-controlled life-support system.
  • Philip K. Dick discusses synthetic wombs in his novel The Divine Invasion.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune, axlotl tanks are semi-artificial uteri, women turned into biological factories used to create ghola clones and later the spice melange.
  • In Frank Herbert's 1966 novel Destination:Void plants are bio-engineered to serve as wombs.
  • In Star Wars: Episode II on the planet Kamino a vast complex makes hundreds of thousands of human clones. It has revolving hubs of laboratory flasks (artificial uteri) containing developing embryos in nutrient solution. They will serve as soldiers for the Republic and to aid the Jedi, who would otherwise be largely outnumbered against the separatist droid armies.
  • The 1982 movie Tomorrow's Child[1] plotline is about the first baby born from an articial uterus.
  • In the short-lived 1990s science fiction television series Space: Above and Beyond, the InVitros are a genetically engineered race of people gestated in large laboratory flasks that serve as artificial uteri.
  • The 1999 movie The Matrix also features the artificial gestation of humans.
  • The artificial uterus has made an appearance in the Gundam series: in Gundam Wing, one of the main characters Qautre Rababa has 29 sisters that were born from artificial uterus; in Gundam SEED, Kira Yamato is designated the Ultimate Coordinator because he was grown from an artificial uterus.
  • In the NOW Comics The Terminator comic book series in the 1980s, John Connor's resistance forces utilize artificial uteri to continue human reproduction so that the women in their fighting force do not need to be immobilized by pregnancy.
  • In David Weber's Honorverse series, fetuses are routinely "tubed" in artificial uterus. Some characters, such as Allison Harrington, refrain from using this option because of moral scruples.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, artificial uteri, called uterine replicators are widely used, and body births are considerably out of favor on most technologically advanced worlds, to the extent that Miles Vorkosigan disgusts some Cetagandan women by mentioning that his cousin Ivan was born from his mother's body. Miles was himself gestated in a uterine replicator. Ethan of Athos features an all-male world in which men use artificial uteri to reproduce. Children are grown in and birthed from uterine replicators.
  • In The Island, cloned humans are grown to adults in artificial uteri to harvest organs.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ayanami Rei is cloned from Ikari Yui and grown through some method of artificial reproduction. Much of the pseudo-technology in this series is a product of utilizing artificial propagation.
  • In the anime Ergo Proxy, artificial wombs are featured, which are the origin of all habitants of the dome city Romdo.
  • In the Battletech Universe, almost every warrior of each of the Clan factions is born in an artificial uteri. In development they undergo a process that ensures their complete genetic health. They call themselves Truebirths, and feel they are superior to all who were born naturally, whom they call Freebirths.
  • In Kyle XY Kyle and Jessi are grown in an artificial womb created by Adam Baylin - Kyle's Genetic Donator.
  • In the 1995 movie Species, Sil, an alien-human hybrid, is grown in an artificial womb.

See also

References

  1. ^ IVF.org - Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility, New York, NY
  2. ^ Weill Cornell Research
  3. ^ http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=artificial-uterus-could-save-grey-n-2009-02-18

External links


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