Jeremy Rifkin: Yosinori Kuwabara and his colleagues, working in a small research laboratory at Juntendou University in Tokyo, are developing the first operational artificial womb – a clear plastic tank the size of a bread basket, filled with amniotic fluid stabilised at body temperature. For the past several years, Kuwabara and his team have kept goat foetuses alive and growing for up to 10 days by connecting their umbilical cords to two machines that serve as a placenta, pumping in blood, oxygen and nutrients and disposing of waste products. While the plastic womb is still only a prototype, Kuwabara predicts that a fully functioning artificial womb capable of gestating a human foetus may be a reality in less than six years. Others are more sceptical, but say we will probably see the mass use of artificial wombs by the time today’s babies become parents.

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