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SQI: Simpson Querry Institute

Rogers Group develops device to treat bladder problems

The Rogers Lab — along with collaborators at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign — has developed a soft, implantable device to help people with bladder problems bypass the need for medication or electronic stimulators. 

During initial testing on rats, the team implanted a soft, stretchy belt-like device around the animal’s bladder. As the bladder fills and empties, the belt expands and contracts. The researchers also injected opsins into the animals’ bladders. The opsins are carried by a virus that binds to nerve cells in the bladder, making those cells sensitive to light signals. This allowed the researchers to use optogenetics to activate those cells.

Using bluetooth communication to signal an external hand-held device, the scientists can read information in real time and, using a simple algorithm, detect when the bladder is full, when the animal has emptied its bladder and when bladder emptying is occurring too frequently. In such cases, 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.

“We’re excited about these results,” said Rogers, who hopes to develop non-surgical techniques for implanting the device in humans using a catheter. “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.”