Scientists in the US have developed the first example of a wireless implantable device that has a high potential to help people with bladder problems.
Located in the lower abdomen, the bladder is a hollow organ that stores urine. It is a part of the urinary system responsible for eliminating the wastes and extra fluid left over after the body takes. When the bladder fills, muscles in its walls relax so that it can expand. When the bladder empties, during urination, the muscles contract to squeeze the urine out through the urethra.
When people get older, the bladder conditions change. The elastic bladder tissue may toughen and become less stretchy. A less stretchy bladder cannot hold as much urine as before and might cause frequent urination. The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may also weaken, making it more difficult to empty the bladder fully and causing urine to leak.
Using lights to control sensory neuron behavior
In a recent study published in Nature, one of the most recognizable scientific journals in the world, a group of scientists and engineers from the Washington University, the University of Illinois, and the Northwestern University, developed a soft, wireless implantable device that can detect overactivity in the bladder, and then use lights to reduce the urge to urinate.
Following a minimally invasive surgical procedure, the scientists implant a wireless neuromodulation system consisting of a thin, low-modulus strain sensor to monitor bladder filling and voiding with visible lights.
New treatment works well in mice
The scientists first injected a group of light-sensitive chemicals called opsins into mice bladders. These light-sensitive chemicals are then carried by a virus that binds to nerve cells in the bladder, making those cells sensitive to light signals. This allows the scientists to use lights to control bladder cell behavior. The preclinical study results showed that the implanted device could accurately measure bladder functions, and have minimal effect on bladder physiology with no detectable harm or distress to the host.
This new class of technology opens new approaches for the future treatment of bladder problems. Further development to stimulate bladder contractions in the context of underactive bladders is needed to obtain a better understanding of the electrical stimulation approaches.
Written by Man-tikChoy, Ph.D
- Mickle, A.D. et al. A wireless closed-loop system for optogenetic peripheral neuromodulation. Nature, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0823-6
- Bladder Pain: Common Causes, Treatments, and Tests. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/bladder-pain#1