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Study: New Robotic Bladder Helps with Incontinence in Rats

December 05, 2013 2 min read

People who suffer from spinal cord injury are often left with an inability to control their bladder. This leads to bladder spasms and spontaneous voiding accidents that are often managed with catheters and incontinence briefs, or corrected through surgery.

However, University of Cambridge neurologist James Fawcett has created a new device that senses when the bladder is full and needs to empty, and when it isn’t and keep it from emptying itself. This new technology has worked in rats, but it’s a step towards helping spinal cord injury patients regain control of their bladder in the future. Results from the study were published online on Nov. 6 in the Science Translational Medicine.

When a normal bladder fills up, it sends signals to the brain, telling you it’s time to pee. But a spinal cord injury can disrupt those signals, failing to establish a connection between the brain and the bladder. This causes the person to lose sensation of a full bladder and when they need to empty it.

The research team, led by Daniel J. Chew and Lan Zhu, took parts of the rat’s spinal nerves called dorsal roots, and placed them into microchannels. These channels then recorded signals that are released from the bladder to the spine. As the bladder filled up and started to empty on its own, the channels spiked in electrical activity. They then counteracted the nerves by sending signals to a stimulator that’s attached to the nerves that are connected to the bladder muscles. Voila – the bladder doesn’t contract, preventing any involuntary voiding. When the individual does want to pee, they just push a button and the stimulator releases a low-frequency pulse, which causes the bladder to empty.

It’ll be years before the device can be used in humans. The dorsal roots in the rat experiments only survived for several months, which won’t be useful or practical for humans. However, it’s just one step closer to helping people with spinal cord injuries regain a sense of control and independence.


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