Researchers at Penn State have developed an implantable device that coils around the bladder to detect when the bladder is full and assist with emptying it by contracting on-demand. The device is intended to treat underactive bladder, a condition in which incomplete bladder emptying leads to irregular and uncomfortable urination.
“Researchers have been interested in studying urinary control for a while because a lot of diseases and conditions are related to this,” said Larry Cheng, a researcher involved in the study. “There are two conditions in particular that researchers have been studying. The first condition is to force the urine out of the bladder when the muscle might be in a diseased state so that it really can’t provide enough force to get the urine out. The second is an overactive bladder, in which an individual experiences the sudden or frequent tendency to urinate, which is related to urinary incontinence.”
In the case of an underactive bladder, this is not only inconvenient but in certain cases can lead to urinary retention and serious damage to the kidneys if urine backs up and is forced into them. Current treatments for underactive bladder include drug therapy, surgery or self-catheterization, which present various drawbacks ranging from limited efficacy, side-effects, pain, and inconvenience.
To address this, the Penn State researchers have designed a new implantable device that can mechanically assist with emptying the bladder. The device is a polymer wrap that encircles the bladder and can expand and contract as the bladder fills and empties. It also contains sensors that can detect when the bladder is full and needs to be emptied. The device can then send a signal to an electric thread that begins contracting, providing mechanical assistance in emptying the bladder.
Interestingly, because of its unique serpentine shape, the wrap does not require glue or sutures to remain in place, which makes it easier to the implant. “With the serpentine design built into the structure, we can stretch it to a much bigger geometry,” said Cheng. “So, if we stretch that serpentine wrap, which is placed around and against the bladder, it would provide a sufficient force to hold the electronic thread with the sensors in place so that it won’t be able to slip off.”