Light-up ‘belt’ that shines on the bladder could stop embarrassing leaks
A light-up belt that shines on the bladder could reduce embarrassing leaks.
The surgically implanted device is designed to combat overactive bladder — which affects around eight million people in Britain.
It is strapped around the bladder and can sense how often a patient is going to the loo. If that exceeds three times an hour, it switches on dozens of tiny light bulbs built into the belt.
These shine on the bladder wall to dampen activity of nerve cells that trigger the muscle contractions that control bladder function. Once trips to the loo return to normal — no more than once every couple of hours — the lights switch off again.
Fresh hope: The new belt, being tested at Northwestern University in Chicago, U.S., could allow millions to benefit from the technique
Controlling nerve cells using light is called optogenetics. So far it has only been used to study how nerve cells in the brain communicate.
The new belt, being tested at Northwestern University in Chicago, U.S., could allow millions to benefit from the technique.
Overactive bladder affects men and women equally and causes a sudden need to urinate, day or night, without warning.
It is caused by a problem with the detrusor muscles in the walls of the bladder. These relax to allow the bladder to fill with urine, then contract when it is full.
Sometimes, the muscles contract too often, creating a sudden need to go to the loo.
The cause is often unknown but it is more common among the elderly and can be triggered by alcohol or caffeine — which irritate muscles in the bladder wall.
Treatments include pelvic floor exercises to boost muscle strength and bladder training techniques to improve control.
Did you know? Overactive bladder affects men and women equally and causes a sudden need to urinate, day or night, without warning
Drugs that help can cause side-effects such as dry mouth and dry eyes. The new treatment begins with doctors injecting a modified virus into the bladder wall.
The virus is loaded with genetic instructions that tell nerve cells in the bladder to produce a protein called archaerhodopsin 3.
Exposing this protein to light dampens down the activity of the nerve cells that tell the brain it’s time to empty the bladder.
The belt is made of a stretchy fabric, packed with tiny LED lights and sensors that monitor muscle activity in the bladder wall. When the sensors detect the bladder is being emptied too often, they send a wireless message to a microchip that switches the lights on.
Once the sensors detect the bladder is functioning more normally, the lights are switched off.
Scientists who tested the treatment in rats found the belt helped their bladder habits return to normal, according to results published this month in the journal Nature.
It has yet to undergo human trials so it could be three to five years before it is available.
Marc Laniado, a consultant urologist at Frimley Health NHS Trust in Surrey, said the surgery to put the belt in place could cause complications.
‘However, this treatment sounds plausible,’ he added. ‘A treatment that works consistently well and safely would be very welcome.’