Extremely premature babies could be kept alive in future using an “artificial womb” that scientists plan to test in humans after a successful study involving unborn lambs. A plastic bag filled with artificial amniotic fluid – the nutrient-rich liquid that sustains a foetus in the womb – allowed foetal lambs to develop at an age equivalent to 23 weeks in humans. Human infants born at 23 weeks have just a 15 per cent chance of survival, according to pregnancy research charity Tommy’s. This rises to 55 per cent at 24 weeks, while babies born at 25 weeks have an 80 per cent chance of survival.

Premature babies are often placed in incubators to help keep them warm, but the new invention closely replicates conditions in a real womb, scientists at the Center for Fetal Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have said. “This system is potentially far superior to what hospitals can currently do for a 23-week-old baby born at the cusp of viability,” said Dr Alan Flake, the Centre’s director. READ MORE