Stimulators (that send an electric current to the nerve that controls the bladder) have treated many people with severe bladder problems for the past 30 years. These implants help with incontinence and overactive bladder but can also interfere with normal nerve signaling to other organs. Recognizing this, a group of researchers created an implantable device with tiny light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that have the potential to help people with bladder problems avoid using medication or electronic stimulators.
The researchers developed a soft, implantable device that detects bladder overactivity and then uses light from bio-integrated LEDs to reduce the urge to urinate. The device has been tested on laboratory rats and may one day help people who have incontinence or frequently need to urinate.
The researchers implant a soft, stretchy belt-like device around the bladder during a minor surgical procedure. The belt expands, and contracts as the bladder fills and empties. In addition, the researchers inject proteins known as opsins into the bladders of the animals. A virus that binds to nerve cells in the bladder transmits opsins, making them sensitive to light signals. It enables the researchers to activate those cells using optogenetics (the use of light to control cell behavior in living tissue).