Millions worldwide grapple with bladder dysfunctions stemming from neurological, cerebral, or spinal issues arising from congenital conditions like spina bifida or acquired injuries throughout life. Left untreated, severe bladder dysfunctions can lead to frequent infections and urinary issues, potentially harming kidney and overall health.

However, a groundbreaking innovation has emerged: a new battery-free, soft, and flexible implant that adheres to the bladder wall, detecting filling and wirelessly transmitting data to a smartphone app, enabling real-time bladder monitoring. This marks the first bioelectronic sensor of its kind, providing continuous bladder function tracking over extended periods.

Developed by researchers at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA), this novel device could be a game-changer for individuals with paralysis, spina bifida, bladder cancer, or severe bladder conditions. It not only facilitates patient self-management but also allows physicians to remotely monitor patient conditions, enabling quicker and more informed treatment decisions. The device measures bladder expansion via tension sensors: as the bladder fills and stretches, the device detects this tension and transmits data via Bluetooth to a digital device. It can be designed for either permanent internal use or dissolution post-recovery, tailored to patient needs.

In animal models, the system provided real-time, accurate measurements of bladder filling and emptying for 30 days and successfully transmitted data for eight weeks in a non-human primate study. Trials also revealed the sensors’ sensitivity in detecting tension caused by very low urine volumes. Moreover, developers are exploring integrating this new technology with a biodegradable «bladder patch» containing stem cell seeds to potentially revolutionize bladder reconstruction surgeries, eliminating the need for intestinal tissue extraction. This «patch» not only mimics bladder expansions and contractions but also stimulates new bladder tissue growth, eventually dissolving and leaving functional tissue. This comprehensive approach, tested over two years, demonstrates promising potential for restoring bladder function.

«We are working to integrate our bladder regeneration technology with this innovative wireless bladder monitoring technology to restore bladder function and monitor recovery post-surgery,» said Guillermo A. Ameer of Northwestern, who co-led the work. «This work brings us closer to the reality of intelligent regenerative systems, which are implantable pro-regenerative devices capable of probing their microenvironment, wirelessly reporting these findings outside the body (to the patient, caregiver, or manufacturer), and enabling on-demand or scheduled responses to alter the course and enhance device performance or safety.»

Article written by HospiMédica