Scientists restore bladder control to men with spinal cord injuries

In a new UCLA study of five men, scientists stimulated the lower spinal cord and restored bladder control in these men.

Currently more than 80 percent of the 250,000 Americans living with a spinal cord injury lose the ability to urinate voluntarily after their injury.

People with spinal cord injuries must slide a narrow tube called a catheter into the bladder several times a day to drain urine.

Patients whose injuries prevent use of their hands must depend on a caretaker to insert the catheter.

Relying on a catheter long-term can be dangerous, because the procedure can introduce bacteria that lead to urinary tract infections and permanent scarring.

Bladder problems after spinal cord injuries can also lead to kidney failure and death.

According to a recent study, the desire to regain bladder control outranks even their wish to walk again.

In the study, the timing of the men’s spinal-cord injuries ranged from five to 13 years ago.

The team applied magnetic stimulation to the spinal cord to access the cellular machinery controlling urination.

The magnetic stimulation device is FDA-approved for use in humans; however, its application for bladder rehabilitation is experimental.

Doctors previously have used the same approach with the brain to improve nerve cell function for conditions ranging from depression to migraine.

Each participant underwent 15 minutes of weekly stimulation for four months. At first, the scientists saw no results.

But after four sessions, the men began to experience measurable improvement.

The ability to urinate at will improved in each patient.

Four of the men still had to use a catheter at least once a day—but that was still a significant drop from their average of more than six times a day before the treatment.

The patients’ average bladder capacity increased from 244 millimeters to 404 millimeters, and the volume of urine they produced voluntarily rose from 0 to 1120 cubic centimeters per day.

Results showed that the treatment improved the men’s quality of life by an average of 60% (according to a questionnaire they completed before and after the study).

And if the technique is replicable on other people, it could help reduce the social stigma and health risks linked to frequent catheter use.

Dr. Daniel Lu is the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

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Source: Scientific Reports.