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Soft, Flexible, Battery-Free Implant Continuously Monitors Bladder Function

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 26 Mar 2024

Millions of people across the world struggle with bladder dysfunctions due to nerve, brain, or spinal cord problems arising from congenital conditions like spina bifida or injuries acquired during their lifetime. If left untreated, severe bladder dysfunctions can lead to frequent infections and urination issues, potentially damaging the kidneys and overall health. Now, researchers have developed a novel, soft, and flexible battery-free implant that attaches to the bladder wall to sense filling and wirelessly sends this data to a smartphone app, allowing real-time bladder fullness monitoring. This innovation marks the first such bioelectronic sensor to provide continuous bladder function monitoring for a prolonged time.

The new device developed by researchers at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA) could be a game-changer for individuals with paralysis, spina bifida, bladder cancer, or severe bladder diseases, where bladder function is significantly compromised. It not only facilitates patient self-monitoring but also empowers clinicians to remotely observe patient conditions, enabling quicker, more informed treatment decisions. The device measures bladder expansion through strain sensors: as the bladder fills and stretches, the device detects this strain, transmitting the data via Bluetooth to a digital device. It can be designed either for permanent internal use or to dissolve post-recovery, depending on patient needs.

Image: The new device for monitoring the bladder comprise multiple sensors which work together to measure strain (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University)
Image: The new device for monitoring the bladder comprise multiple sensors which work together to measure strain (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University)

In animal models, the system provided accurate real-time measurements of bladder filling and emptying for 30 days and successfully delivered information for eight weeks in a study using non-human primates. The trials also revealed that the sensors are sensitive enough to detect strain from very low volumes of urine. Additionally, the developers are exploring the integration of the new technology with a biodegradable, stem cell-seeded "bladder patch" to potentially revolutionize bladder reconstruction surgeries, eliminating the need for intestinal tissue harvesting. This "patch" not only matches the bladder's expansions and contractions but also encourages new bladder tissue growth, eventually dissolving and leaving behind 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 novel wireless bladder monitoring technology to restore bladder function and monitor the recovery process after surgery,” said Northwestern’s Guillermo A. Ameer, who co-led the work. “This work brings us closer to the reality of smart regenerative systems, which are implantable pro-regenerative devices capable of probing their microenvironment, wirelessly reporting those findings outside the body (to the patient, caregiver or manufacturer) and enabling on-demand or programmed responses to change course and improve device performance or safety.”

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