In a University of Tokyo laboratory, a pipette-wielding technician delicately positions 10 mouse eggs on a razor-thin microchip lined with a "bed" of cultured uterus tissue…"This is a new way to culture embryos in an environment that is closer to what happens inside the body," he said in an interview.
Although results in mice so far are only slightly better than with the current method, Fujii dreams of building an automated device that takes in eggs and sperm at one end and delivers healthy human embryos out the other with near-assembly line results…
Others are pursuing even more futuristic goals.
Cornell University scientists built an artificial womb from cultured layers of mouse uterine tissue in 2003. Although embryos implanted and began to grow, they didn't survive, and while the studies continue, they have been placed on the back burner.
For now, Fujii and other researchers developing technologies that try to mimic the womb are focused on improving in vitro fertilization – and progress is needed. Just 29 percent of couples who attempted IVF in 2005 gave birth to a child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. That was up from 24.7 percent in 1998, but still far from reliable enough for infertile couples, who often attempt IVF multiple times. A CDC report issued in 2002 found that among US women of childbearing age, 10 percent had consulted a doctor for infertility.
Some people are worried by increasingly artificial means of reproduction, said Josephine Johnston, a researcher at the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y. One concern is that "assisted reproduction" will help – and encourage – women to have children ever-later in life.
"It's a mistake to think you can put pregnancy off, because it might not be successful," Johnson said. "There is also significant concern about women having babies in their 50s and 60s, perhaps because of elevated risks for both mom and baby – and questions about an older mom's physical ability to raise that child to adulthood"… [22Oct07, Sharon Guynup, Boston Globe; http://www.boston.com/yourlife/health/articles/2007/10/22/scientists_try_to_build_a_better_womb_for_ivf/]