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Urinary Implant Helps Alert When Patients 'Gotta Go'
  • Posted March 26, 2024

Urinary Implant Helps Alert When Patients 'Gotta Go'

It's hard for some folks who suffer illness-related urinary incontinence to judge whether they'll be able to hold it until they get home, or if they should rush to a bathroom now.

There might soon be a new app for that.

A newly developed soft, flexible, battery-free implant attaches to the bladder wall and senses the organ filling with urine, according to researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The implant wirelessly transmits data to a smartphone app, so patients can track their bladder fullness in real time, researchers said.

The app and device could be a game-changer for folks whose bladder function has been compromised by disease to the point they're unable to tell if they need to go, co-lead researcher Guillermo Ameer, a professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, said in a news release.

“If bladder nerves are damaged from surgery or from a disease such as spina bifida, then a patient often loses sensation and is unaware that their bladder is full,” Ameer said in a news release.

“To empty the bladder, they often have to use catheters, which are uncomfortable and can lead to painful infections,” he continued. “We want to eliminate the use of catheters and bypass current bladder function monitoring procedures, which are highly invasive, very unpleasant and must be done in a hospital or clinical setting.”

The device uses several sensors to track strain on the bladder, researchers said.

As the bladder fills, it expands and stretches. This stretching pulls on the elastic-like device, allowing it to track strain on the bladder.

“The key advance here is in the development of super soft, ultrathin, stretchable strain gauges that can gently wrap the outside surface of the bladder, without imposing any mechanical constraints on the natural filling and voiding behaviors,” co-lead researcher John Rogers, a professor of biomedical engineering, said in the news release.

In small animal studies, the device successfully tracked bladder filling and emptying in real time for 30 days, researchers said.

A follow-up study using non-human primates found that the system successfully tracked bladder levels for eight weeks, able to detect strain from even very low volumes of urine.

“This work is the first of its kind that is scaled for human use,” Ameer said. “We demonstrated the potential long-term function of the technology. Depending on the use case, we can design the technology to reside permanently inside the body or to harmlessly dissolve after the patient has made a full recovery.”

The researchers also hope to pair this device with other new technologies that can be used to reconstruct a bladder or induce urination on demand.

“In addition to monitoring the filling, the app will be able to send warnings to the patient and then direct them to locations for the nearest restrooms,” Ameer said. “Also, one day, patients will be able to trigger urination, on demand, through their smartphone.”

The new study was published March 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The Urology Care Foundation has more on urinary incontinence.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, March 25, 2024 

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