Sheep have a similar physiology to humans, can get many of the same diseases, have a short gestation period, and their young are born at a similar weight to human babies. These characteristics are valuable in research studies related to respiratory diseases and fetal development.
Sheep have contributed to many medical advancements for premature babies. Steroid injections to accelerate fetal lung development in pregnant mothers at risk for giving birth too early and the development of surfactant therapy which treats Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) in premature babies are two advancements that have saved many lives.
Recently, the sheep model advanced the development of an artificial womb. Premature lambs are placed in the womb and have been “born” from the womb successfully. Researchers hope to someday use this technology to help overcome extreme prematurity, which is the leading a cause infant mortality and morbidity.