Bladder sensor sends “pee-time” alerts to patients’ smartphones

Although you may know when you need to pee, such is not the case with everyone. A new implantable sensor is designed to help those other folks, by sending a smartphone alert when their bladder is full.

There are various reasons why some people are incapable of registering the sensation of bladder fullness.

They may have suffered a spinal cord injury, for instance, or they might be afflicted with spina bifida or bladder disease. And while such individuals typically wear catheters, doing so can be uncomfortable and may even lead to infections.

With these and other drawbacks in mind, a team of scientists from Northwestern University set out to develop an alternative.

The result is a soft, stretchable, thin strain-gauge sensor which is surgically attached to the outside of the bladder. In fact, several such sensors are placed on the organ, all of them hard-wired to a single small implanted “base station” that contains a battery, Bluetooth module and other electronics.

As the bladder fills with urine and expands, the sensors stretch along with it (but without affecting its function). This causes each of them to produce a strain signal, which is relayed to the base station. The station transmits this data to an app on the patient’s smartphone, allowing them to keep track of their bladder fullness – the information could also be accessed remotely, by their physician.

In tests performed on non-human primates, the technology successfully provided readings for a period of eight weeks.

The scientists are now working on a method of stimulating the bladder to induce urination on demand. That way, when patients receive a full-bladder alert, they can simply proceed to the nearest bathroom and urinate normally.

“This work is the first of its kind that is scaled for human use,” said Prof. Guillermo A. Ameer, who led the study along with professors John A. Rogers and Arun Sharma. “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 are also developing a biodegradable synthetic “bladder patch” which is seeded with the patient’s own stem cells. The idea is that once the patch has been implanted into the patient’s dysfunctional bladder, adjacent bladder cells will migrate into it, ultimately rendering it into healthy new bladder tissue.

Source: Northwestern University

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