A new implantable device treats bladder problems with light

A new implantable device treats bladder problems with light
This CT scan of a rat shows a small device implanted around the bladder. The device -- developed by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University -- uses light signals from tiny LEDs to activate nerve cells in the bladder and control problems such as incontinence and overactive bladder. © GEREAU LAB, Washington University

A new implantable device which treats bladder problems with light in rats has been developed by a team of neuroscientists and engineers.

The team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago have created the implantable device which has the potential to help people with bladder problems bypass the need for medication or electronic stimulators.

How does the implantable device work?

The implantable device works by using a blue-tooth communication to signal to the external hand-held device and detect when the bladder has full, when the animal has emptied its bladder, and when bladder emptying is occurring too frequently, by a simple algorithm.

Using light to treat bladder problems

Gereau said: “When the bladder is emptying too often, the external device sends a signal that activates micro-LEDs on the bladder band device, and the lights then shine on sensory neurons in the bladder. This reduces the activity of the sensory neurons and restores normal bladder function.”

John A. Rogers, PhD, the study’s other senior investigator, added: “We’re excited about these results. This example brings together the key elements of an autonomous, implantable system that can operate in synchrony with the body to improve health: a precision biophysical sensor of organ activity; a noninvasive means to modulate that activity; a soft, battery-free module for wireless communication and control; and data analytics algorithms for closed-loop operation.”

The potential applications and future research

Similar devices are expected to be tested in larger animals. The researchers believe that this strategy could also be used in other parts of the body. Some examples include to treat chronic pain, or using light to stimulate cells in the pancreas to secrete insulin.

One of the barriers to this involves the viruses used to get light-sensitive proteins to bind to cells in organs. Gereau commented: “We don’t yet know whether we can achieve stable expression of the opsins using the viral approach and, more importantly, whether this will be safe over the long term. That issue needs to be tested in preclinical models and early clinical trials to make sure the strategy is completely safe.”

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