Introduction Ex-vivo uterine environment (EVE) therapy uses an artificial placenta to provide gas exchange and nutrient delivery to a fetus submerged in an amniotic fluid bath. Development of EVE may allow us to treat very premature neonates without mechanical ventilation. Meanwhile, elevations in fetal inflammation are associated with adverse neonatal outcomes. In the present study, we analysed fetal survival, inflammation and pulmonary maturation in preterm lambs maintained on EVE therapy using a parallelised umbilical circuit system with a low priming volume. Methods Ewes underwent surgical delivery at 115 days of gestation (term is 150 days), and fetuses were transferred to EVE therapy (EVE group; n = 5). Physiological parameters were continuously monitored; fetal blood samples were intermittently obtained to assess wellbeing and targeted to reference range values for 2 days. Age-matched animals (Control group; n = 6) were surgically delivered at 117 days of gestation. Fetal blood and tissue samples were analysed and compared between the two groups. Results Fetal survival time in the EVE group was 27.0 ± 15.5 (group mean ± SD) hours. Only one fetus completed the pre-determined study period with optimal physiological parameters, while the other 4 animals demonstrated physiological deterioration or death prior to the predetermined study end point. Significant elevations (p<0.05) in: i) inflammatory proteins in fetal plasma; ii) selected cytokine/chemokine mRNA expression levels in fetal tissues; and iii) histological inflammatory score in fetal lung, were observed in the EVE group compared to the Control group. There was no significant difference (p>0.05) in surfactant protein mRNA expression level between the two groups. Conclusion In this study, we achieved limited fetal survival using EVE therapy. Despite this, EVE therapy only induced a modest fetal inflammatory response and did not promote lung maturation. These data provide additional insight into markers of treatment efficacy for the assessment of future studies.
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