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Biotech Science Technology

Artificial Wombs In the Near Future? 367

Posted by Soulskill
from the invest-in-popcorn-when-this-hits-mainstream-politics dept.
New submitter DaemonDan writes "The first successful pregnancy by IVF was accomplished over 50 years ago, essentially creating a multi-billion dollar industry. Many scientists are trying to take it one step farther with a 100% test tube baby brought to term in an artificial womb. 'Cornell University's Dr. Hung-Ching Liu has engineered endometrial tissues by prompting cells to grow in an artificial uterus. When Liu introduced a mouse embryo into the lab-created uterine lining, "It successfully implanted and grew healthy," she said in this New Atlantis Magazine article. Scientists predict the research could produce an animal womb by 2020, and a human model by early 2030s.' The author of the article seems to believe that birth via artificial wombs could become the new norm, but is it really feasible, desirable or even affordable for the majority of Earth's population?"
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Artificial Wombs In the Near Future?

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  • Clone Army? (Score:5, Funny)

    by A10Mechanic (1056868) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:19PM (#41983899)
    As long as they don't all have the surname "Fett"...
    • by skids (119237)

      Something tells me that anyone unethical enough to raise a clone army is also unethical enough to save cash by using a redundant array of sedated kidnap victims.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      Or... "Bush" : insta-dark age.

  • Wow... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:21PM (#41983917) Homepage Journal

    I keep thinking of how sci-fi writers sometimes get behind the "now". In Dune they had "Axlotyl tanks" to grow clones in, and it turned out that these "tanks" were human women. And Dune was set 1000 years in the future. Are they going to call these artificial wombs Axlotyl Tanks?

    Star Trek did the same thing when McCoy gave Kirk reading glasses, and the CrystaLens came out about fifteen years later.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And Dune was set 1000 years in the future.

      I'm not intimately familiar with the Dune novels, certainly not to the point of others here, but if I'm not mistaken, I think you're off on that figure by at least a power of ten...

    • Are they going to call these artificial wombs Axlotyl Tanks?

      Is that a serious question? Why would they do that?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Look at the pads or communicators in every Star Trek series. They can travel at greater than light speed but can't manage a decent tablet or smartphone.

    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Defenestrar (1773808) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:47PM (#41984289)

      Uterine replicators were pretty central to the start of Bujold's series in '86 with one of her first Hugo's coming out of that initial plot. She's examined their impact from a few different angles over the years - although it's just background or a side line in many of the Vorkosigan novels. I'd say she gave it a far better treatment than Herbert (though he certainly got there first) who only ever managed to share a Hugo let alone win the four Bujold's got. Actually, I think I liked the collaborative work of his son with Anderson a bit more than most of the original Dune books (barring Dune itself), although their work is probably best accompanied by a SSRI.

      One of the things I appreciate about SF is not just the imagination of the future as much as exploring the ethics and social implications of where we might end up.

      • Re:Wow... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Znork (31774) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:24PM (#41984825)

        Still, even Bujold is fairly recent. Personally I suspect that if men were the ones getting pregnant we'd have had da Vinci making designs for uterine replicators and the Germans would have perfected them in the 30's.

        It will be interesting to see how the debate goes when they start being used, particularly as cosmetic and convenience reasons are likely to be significant drivers. I'm certain some groups will find (or make up) a lot of reasons to oppose them, despite the many and obvious advantages.

        • Re:Wow... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tnk1 (899206) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:24PM (#41985517)

          I suspect that if men were getting pregnant, they would be women.

          A major reason that women didn't do these things and were in the position they were is precisely because of childbearing and raising being an expensive proposition. If men were bearing children, they'd be in the same boat. Men had the duty of going out and ranging either to hunt or fight. This also had the advantage of exposing them to other ideas from over the hill.

        • by swillden (191260)
          I don't know. I asked my wife and she said she really enjoyed being pregnant and wouldn't have wanted to miss out on it for anything. Except maybe the morning sickness and the last 3-4 weeks. I expect a lot of women feel the same. Not all, certainly.
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      I believe Dune actually starts 10000 years after the Butlerian Jihad.... which ended the rule of the thinking machines. So.... no not "now" at all.

      • 10000 years is a bit too far off. One study I've heard states that by the year 6565, you'll need neither a husband nor a wife - you'll just pick your son (and your daughter, too) from the bottom of a long, glass tube.

  • by clintp (5169) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:21PM (#41983921)

    "Artificial Womb" sounds so awkward. How about axlotl tank?

  • Axolotl Tanks here we come!

    It would be awesome if this would allow us to implant our larvae in host animals(maybe cows, those are big and common) the way parasitoid insects do...

    • You, uh... never read the rest of the series did you?

      Because that's a horrible way to talk about your wife. The Bene Tleilax are masters of the genome, their Axolotl tanks are women.
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        Nor did he see any previous comments (like mine, which noted that in Dune, 1000 years in the future, axlotyl tanks are human women). Lots of redundancy in this thread, I wonder if the mods will notice?

        (clicking "no bonus buttons because I'm not exactly on-topic here. Hell, if everyone else deserves a downmod I might as well too!)

      • Well he certainly never finished it!

        *(Ok, so Herbert and Anderson might have made that possible).

  • by sconeu (64226) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:23PM (#41983945) Homepage Journal

    Louise Brown [wikipedia.org], born in 1978. That would make it more than 40 years ago, not more than 50.

  • These should be kept seperate from normal medical facilities and under the same sort of scrutiny as Fort Knox. I don't trust a single one of those bastards. :D

  • I don't understand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fustakrakich (1673220) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:25PM (#41983979) Journal

    Is there a baby shortage we should be concerned about?

    • There is in Japan and western Europe.
      • by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:36PM (#41984151)

        Not so much a baby shortage as a baby distribution issue. Same with food, water, and most other essentials. We have enough for everyone, it's just some places have so much they waste it whereas other places have severe shortages.

    • No shortage of babies, just a shortage of parents who are willing to go through the bureaucratic hell that is adoption so that they could raise someone else's kid.
      • by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:48PM (#41984315)

        Nope, still wrong. Plenty of parents are willing to adopt, as proof look at foreign adoptions. What almost nobody wants is to adopt a kid more than a few months old. Hence the giant foster care system. But for babies supply of parents far exceeds supply of children.

        Not that there isn't some use for this device. I'm thinking for women who can't safely carry to term, they could have the baby moved to an artificial womb. Other than that it's a toy for very rich people who want to have a kid with their DNA but don't want to actually be pregnant- think trophy wives.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          If it were cheap enough I would think all women would want to go this route. Pregnancy takes a huge toll on a woman's body and health. Even worse are the possible complications. People still die in childbirth.

          • by AuMatar (183847)

            I wouldn't expect it to get cheap enough. I also worry about negative side effects. Immunity comes to mind immediately- babies get some immunity from the mother's blood to common illnesses, what would the effect of missing that be long term?

        • Nope, still wrong. Plenty of parents are willing to adopt, as proof look at foreign adoptions. What almost nobody wants is to adopt a kid more than a few months old. Hence the giant foster care system. But for babies supply of parents far exceeds supply of children.

          My wife and I have looked into either foster care or adopting older children, the big roadblock for us was all the rules & regulations. For instance, they wanted us to have a fire escape added to our house since the extra rooms we have are on the second floor. We can't afford to make those kinds of modification to our house AND take on a couple of extra children.

    • by dnahelicase (1594971) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:43PM (#41984249)

      Is there a baby shortage we should be concerned about?

      No, but the lead times are terrible. If this is successful, you could

      A) Order a baby, and if you don't care about it having your genes, get one tomorrow.

      or B)Special order one of your own and wait 9 months without the hassle in-between.

      Really, with places like Amazon having a very good handle on expected demand and logistics, we could see babies available via Prime shipping by 2050.

  • Almost... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:26PM (#41983981) Journal

    Forget the artificial womb, who's working on an artificial vagina?

  • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:26PM (#41983983)
    My first born son has been in the hospital for the last three months. He was born a little early. Let's just say that I'm open to the idea of not going through that again.
    • I hear ya. My first was rough on my wife and she can't safely carry again, all the clone-army jokes aside this is awesome science.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Indeed. It'd be nice not to worry about premature birth, C sections(required or elective), split perineums, or even just carrying a watermelon around for months.

      Even better, no longer needed to have a uterine lining shed every month. Clone it, freeze the sample for later, and then burn that fucker out. No "red tides", no accidental pregnancy, reduced cancer risks. Awesome.

  • Sax Hulled You (Score:3, Interesting)

    by salparadyse (723684) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:26PM (#41983985)
    Oh brave new world, that has such people in it.
    • by alanw (1822)

      Mother was an incubator
      Father was the contents
      of a test tube in the ice box
      In the factory of birth

  • Brave New World (Score:5, Interesting)

    by paleo2002 (1079697) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:27PM (#41983993)
    Should we use these to decant Alphas or Epsilon semi-morons?
  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:27PM (#41984007) Homepage Journal

    If a government wants to prohibit abortion, they can just require that she give up her embryo or fetus for adoption when she terminates the pregnancy, with the state picking up the tab over and above the cost of an abortion.

    This assumes, of course, that removing the embryo or fetus in a way that allows transplant to an artificial womb doesn't put the mother at a greater health risk than an abortion.

    • I wanted to post something like this.

      I think you're right -- assuming that the embryo or fetus can be transplanted from a biological to an artificial womb, this should be a legitimate solution to the abortion politics problem. The woman would be able to stop carrying her pregnancy at any time. The Church no longer needs to be worried about the destruction of life. Abortion could be outlawed in favor of this other measure, consistent with pro-life views.

      We'll see how far this technology goes.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      That assumes that those who are opposed to abortion actually wanted to see the fetus develop into a full grown human being.

      So far as I can tell they only oppose abortion, they don't give a shit about any child actually born.

  • Cold World (Score:5, Insightful)

    by concealment (2447304) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:28PM (#41984017) Homepage Journal

    Born in a test tube.

    Nurtured in a plastic womb.

    Raised by a telescreen.

    Now another soldier for democracy, freedom and the American way...

    • My kid's to be an only child because my wife can't carry again, there is distinct good for people this science can create.
      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        While I empathize with you and your wife's situation, your child does not have to be an only child because adoption exists and if you insist on a biological sibling, there is IFV with a surrogate that would be 10s of thousands of dollars less expensive than this if it is ever commercially available. The only thing this replaces is the need for a surrogate, the rest of the process is the same and available today.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:28PM (#41984023)

    Consider, female is pregnant & wants to abort her fetus, but the male sues to have custody of the fetus turned over to him since he can implant it into an artificial womb..

    In a society where pregnancy can occur entirely outside of the human body, what will happen for abortion rights, custody disputes, etc.

    All kinds of social, ethical and legal landmines waiting in that Pandora's box.

    • What landmines? It will be the same as it is now, except that the woman have to give the father a chance to keep the aborted fetus alive. Any further custody disputes will be the same as they are now.

  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:29PM (#41984037)

    but is it really feasible, desirable or even affordable for the majority of Earth's population?

    This will be primarily used by those who can not conceive and those who cannot carry to term. That would be a huge intervention in the evolutionary process, as those are the people we DON'T want to reproduce.

    • ...I see somebody wants to bring back eugenics
    • Why, exactly, do we not WANT them to reproduce? There are some genetic traits that affect reproduction as well as other systems that may be desirable to not pass on, but there are plenty of genetic reproduction issues that otherwise have no effect on the person. Why shouldn't they be allowed to pass those on? What about people who can't reproduce because of a surgery, accident, etc completely unrelated to genetics?

      We left "natural" evolution a long time ago... many thousands of years. And we forced dogs, co

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Says who?

      What exactly is anymore wrong with needing a machine to reproduce than needing cooking to eat?

      We humans have moved most of our digestive system into technology, why not this too?

      • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:02PM (#41984507)

        We humans have moved most of our digestive system into technology, why not this too?

        I'm not sure what restaurants you eat out at, but remind me never to have dinner at your place.

        • by mcmonkey (96054)

          We humans have moved most of our digestive system into technology, why not this too?

          I'm not sure what restaurants you eat out at, but remind me never to have dinner at your place.

          I don't know about "most," but what do you think cooking does? It starts breaking down the molecules in food, aka digesting.

    • Re:De-evolution (Score:4, Informative)

      by frinsore (153020) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:46PM (#41984271)

      Your argument is a few decades late. Instead of having a surrogate mother carry the child to term now a tank "carries" the child to term.

  • Of all the- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paiute (550198) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:31PM (#41984071)
    Really? Artificial wombs, FFS? Look around you, Dr. Fertility. The natural wombs are pumping out product at a terrifyingly prodigious rate with no help from you. Maybe you can work on some other organ that we maybe need to stay alive or something?
  • ... and plug them in to the Matrix.

  • we don't know that much about early human development, though it's pretty clearly not simple (more like chaotic). without knowing which sensory inputs are important to healthy development, an artificial womb would need to attempt to replicate them all. heck, there are plenty of substances that cross the placenta, and most of them would need to be emulated too.

    in other words, producing a mouse-like mouse from an artificial mouse womb is rather different from doing it with humans...

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:49PM (#41984323)
    "[I]s it really feasible, desirable or even affordable for the majority of Earth's population?"

    Clearly, no. But this is beside the point. Maybe it will be one day. And in the much nearer future, it will be just the thing we will turn to because we start having ethical problems with renting the wombs of poor women in India who presently serve as surrogates for fertility-challenged rich couples.

    But for me, the real sci-fi potential of this technology is in interstellar colonization. The idea is that frozen genetic material can survive a long trip much better than any living organism, especially if we're talking about slow trips that might take centuries. However, with proper shielding and error control, a lab that can produce artificial wombs and gestate babies should be much easier, technologically. I'm guessing that by the end of this century, all the pieces will be in place: An artificial womb, an AI that can operate it, correct preservation techniques, and an AI parenting program that does a more ethical job of parenting that many human parents who are still allowed to keep their kids. That, together with AI school, basically makes for a highly portable civilization reproduction package. Only the first generation would need to be raised by pure technology, although I'm sure that since they have the technology, they would want to keep using it to grow the size of the colony and add to their genetic diversity.

  • by bfmorgan (839462) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:01PM (#41984495)
    A Womb with a view.
  • by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:04PM (#41984525) Journal

    From the planet Ix...

  • I can just imagine people lining up in front of all glass encased Baby Gap's full of iBabies with that new "pod" smell...and around the corner a dumpster full of last years models.

  • by FullCircle (643323) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:32PM (#41984901)

    Of course rich women who want to keep their figure will want to go this route.

    If they want to have children without stretchmarks and weight gain, this is perfect, cost be damned.

    It will be the new status symbol.

  • Tube Babies coming soon to a lab near you.

    This is my second "Sci-Fi tech could become reality in the none too distant future" of the last 20 minutes. (The first one being Sundiveresque http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-11/uoi-plt111312.php [eurekalert.org]). If I keep reading, I might find out someone about to make a working version of a warp drive.

    Good Times!

    [forgot to login in my prev. post]

  • by Tom (822) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:57PM (#41985235) Homepage Journal

    but is it really feasible, desirable or even affordable for the majority of Earth's population?"

    No, yes, no.

    The majority of the planet's population is still living near the poverty line. What they have they spend on food and shelter and other essentials. But in that same demographic, death in childbed is still very real for both mother and child, so something less risky would be desirable.

    From a global perspective, hower, low population is not exactly a problem we are having. So this should not be about producing more humans.

  • by staalmannen (1705340) on Thursday November 15, 2012 @01:00AM (#41988897)
    An artificial womb might not primarily be interesting for human reproduction, but for example in conservational biology to re-establish near extinct species, this could be a great tool! Coupled with the technologies of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), where one can de-differentiate a mature somatic cell and then differentiate it into sperm and egg cells we could also generate a large progeny even from a limited number of individuals. Further, the same technology could theoretically be used to surpass many of the reproductive species barriers and make it possible to generate completely new hybrid species. Especially since one could do repeated cycles of embryonic stem cell to egg/sperm differentiations in vitro, one could in this way generate completely new species out of invitro hybrid breeding. I have no idea how far apart species can be with this method, but regulations probably would have to be put in place to avoid generation of new sub-species of humans generated by in vitro hybrid breeding with the other great apes. Who knows... perhaps it would even be possible to breed crocodiles and birds and get some sort of approximation of dinosaurs using this method...

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