Artificial placenta technology: History, potential and perception

H. Usuda, S. Watanabe, Hanita T, M. Saito, S. Sato, H. Ikeda, Y. Kumagai, M. C. Choolani, M. W. Kemp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


As presently conceptualised, the artificial placenta (AP) is an experimental life support platform for extremely preterm infants (i.e. 400-600 g; 21–23+6 weeks of gestation) born at the border of viability. It is based around the oxygenation of the periviable fetus using gas-exchangers connected to the fetal vasculature. In this system, the lung remains fluid-filled and the fetus remains in a quiescent state. The AP has been in development for some sixty years. Over this time, animal experimental models have evolved iteratively from employing external pump-driven systems used to support comparatively mature fetuses (generally goats or sheep) to platforms driven by the fetal heart and used successfully to maintain extremely premature fetuses weighing around 600 g. Simultaneously, sizable advances in neonatal and obstetric care mean that the nature of a potential candidate patient for this therapy, and thus the threshold success level for justifying its adoption, have both changed markedly since this approach was first conceived. Five landmark breakthroughs have occurred over the developmental history of the AP: i) the first human studies reported in the 1950's; ii) foundation animal studies reported in the 1960's; iii) the first extended use of AP technology combined with fetal pulmonary resuscitation reported in the 1990s; iv) the development of AP systems powered by the fetal heart reported in the 2000's; and v) the adaption of this technology to maintain extremely preterm fetuses (i.e. 500-600 g body weight) reported in the 2010's. Using this framework, the present paper will provide a review of the developmental history of this long-running experimental system and up-to-date assessment of the published field today. With the apparent acceleration of AP technology towards clinical application, there has been an increase in the attention paid to the field, along with some inaccurate commentary regarding its potential application and merits. Additionally, this paper will address several misrepresentations regarding the potential application of AP technology that serve to distract from the significant potential of this approach to greatly improve outcomes for extremely preterm infants born at or close to the present border of viability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-17
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Sept 26


  • Artificial placenta
  • Extremely preterm infant
  • Life support


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