Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Implant Treats Bladder Problems With Light

A team of engineers and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in conjunction with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago have developed an implantable device to treat patients with overactive bladder. The tiny device detects the bladder's overactivity and uses LED light to suppress the urge to urinate. The results of their study in rats was recently published in Nature.

implantable device treats bladder problems
This CT scan of a rat shows a small device implanted around the bladder. The device — developed by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University — uses light signals from tiny LEDs to activate nerve cells in the bladder and control problems such as incontinence and overactive bladder.
Credit: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis


“When the bladder is emptying too often, 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,” said Robert W. Gereau IV, PhD, one of the study's lead investigators.


From the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis article "During a minor surgical procedure, they implant a soft, stretchy belt-like device around the bladder. As the bladder fills and empties, the belt expands and contracts. The researchers also inject proteins called 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 allows the researchers to use optogenetics — the use of light to control cell behavior in living tissue — to activate those cells.

Using blue-tooth 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."


Read more about the implant that treats bladder problems using light at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.