‘Biorobotic’ Bladder

Testing on a device has been occurring to give spinal-cord injury patients bladder control

A new implantable device is being tested at the United Kingdom’s University of Cambridge that aims to give spinal-cord injury (SCI) patients some autonomous control over their bladders and pelvic muscles.

James Fawcett, who heads the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair at Cambridge, is developing a device based on the Finetech-Brindley Sacral Anterior Root Stimulator.

The Finetech-Brindley device is surgically implanted in the pelvis and connected to an external stimulator. A button is pressed, causing the bladder to contract and empty itself. It has been used in thousands of patients, but it requires severing nerves from the pelvis into the spinal cord, causing weakening of the pelvic muscles and loss of sexual function.

Fawcett and colleagues are developing a “biorobotic” version of the Brindley device that can read signals from the sensory nerves in the pelvis, rather than requiring them to be cut. These signals would stop the bladder emptying itself at embarrassing times, tell the patient how full the bladder is and allow the patient to use the electronics to empty it.

The ability to record signals from individual nerves has applications beyond bladder control. 

Fawcett envisions the technology as enabling patients who have lost a limb to control robotic limbs. The technology required for recording signals for a whole limb has proven to be extremely complicated, so the team is looking at the bladder-control device as a simpler demonstration of a proof of concept.

For more information, visit cam.ac.uk


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