Researchers from the University of Reading have successfully developed sac membrane in the lab using stem cells from placentas obtained after births.
The breakthrough could significantly reduce the number of premature births.
Foetal membranes naturally rupture at full term when the baby is ready to be born, but sometimes the timing fails and they break earlier.
It is very difficult for doctors to preserve a pregnancy once a mother’s foetal membranes have broken.
Up to 40 percent of early births are caused by a rupture in the membrane surrounding the foetus, which starts labour. Babies born before 24 weeks have a poor chance of survival while later babies still struggle.
Previous attempts to deal with the problem using latex seals or blood platelets have failed.
Dr Che Connon, who has developed strips of foetal membrane, believes an effective treatment could become available within four years.
“From just one donation of cells after a birth we will be able to make thousands of patches to help preserve a pregnancy,” the Daily Express quoted him as saying.
The stem cell patch is designed to be placed over the rupture using keyhole surgery.
“We were able to manipulate the cells to make a material that is almost the same as a woman’s natural membrane. It is tough and we are confident it would do the job and hold a pregnancy in place,” said Dr Connon.
He believes human trials will start in two years’ time and the treatment could be introduced by 2016.
The findings appear in the journal Tissue Engineering.