For the many people around the world affected by infertility who hope to
have their own biological children and raise a family, the only option is in
vitro fertilization (IVF). With typical IVF, eggs are harvested form a woman in
bulk and then fertilized in a lab dish. The dish requires maintenance every few
hours to keep waste materials away and keep fresh nutrients the embryo needs to
After a two to five day incubation period, the healthiest embryos are
transferred to the uterus in the hopes of a successful pregnancy. The process
has a success rate according to some sources of only 30%. Trials
of a new silicon womb are set to begin in the UK and researchers hope the
device will reduce the amount of eggs required for IVF and increase the chances
of a pregnancy.
The silicon womb allows embryos created in the lab to be placed inside a
perforated silicon tube and implanted into the woman’s body. NewScientist reports that the silicon
womb is about 5mm long and less than 1mm wide with walls that are perforated
with 360 holes about 40 microns in diameter.
Once the lab loads the tube with embryos the tube is implanted via the
cervix into the uterus of a woman. The tiny holes allow the normal uterine
fluids to reach the embryos providing a more natural environment for them to
Forty women are being recruited for a trial of the silicon womb and each
woman will have eight to twelve eggs harvested -- half of the resulting embryos
will be incubated in the lab and half inside the silicon womb. Researchers say
that half of the participants will have the silicon womb’s removed after two
days and the embryos will be checked for genetic defects and the remainder of
the volunteers will have the silicon wombs left for four days.
Simon Fishel, the man leading the trial at CARE Fertility in the UK, said
that the trials are encouraging, but not conclusive. Fishel told NewScientist, “We will be able to directly
compare the results of the in vitro and in vivo techniques.”
Fishel goes on to say, “We don't really know the full ambient conditions of
the reproductive tract. It is also a dynamic environment that changes
constantly, and we can't replicate that."
Even if the silicon womb works, it is still not ideal according to
researchers. In a normal pregnancy the embryo develops inside the fallopian
tube during the typical seven days it takes to move from the ovary to the
quote: I don't think stretching a vagina 10 centimeters in diameter is natural either.