'Smart Wrap' Bladder Implant Could Treat Debilitating Conditions

The implant, developed at Penn State University, might help people with underactive bladder syndrome.
Chris Young

Underactive bladder syndrome is a condition that weakens the muscles around the organ, leaving sufferers with an inability to empty the organ properly.

Now, an international team of researchers has been working on a "smart wrap" medical implant that could help sufferers to manage the condition by wrapping around the bladder and helping it to expand and contract.


The 'smart wrap' bladder implant

"Researchers have been interested in studying urinary control for a while because a lot of diseases and conditions are related to this," study author Larry Cheng, of Penn State University explained in a press release.

"There are two conditions in particular that researchers have been studying. The first condition is to force the urine out of the bladder when the muscle might be in a diseased state so that it really can’t provide enough force to get the urine out. The second is an overactive bladder, in which an individual experiences the sudden or frequent tendency to urinate, which is related to urinary incontinence," Cheng continues.

In the team's study, they detail the implant, which combines sensors and a polymer wrap, enabling it to detect when the bladder needs to be completely emptied.

When the device detects the need for emptying, it sends a signal to a polymer web with an electronic thread that is attached to the bladder and can aid the organ to expand and contract. After the bladder is emptied, the band returns to its original position.

Entirely biocompatible materials

The researchers say their wrap can be implanted around the bladder without the need for glue or sutures. It is made from entirely biocompatible materials that allow it to work safely inside the human body for long periods of time.

LED attached to the device help to modulate the bladder's function through optogenetics, a method that uses pulses of light to control the behavior of specific cells. The researchers write that this method can be used for "manipulation for urination at the desired time."

The team successfully demonstrated different configurations of its implant in mouse models with underactive bladders syndrome. Ultimately, they hope to develop their technology sufficiently to be able to help human patients suffering from overactive bladder syndrome.