"More control over bladder function could significantly improve quality of life, such as by allowing people the simple freedom of going to the movies without worrying about an accident," Boggs said.
"Our objective is to complete clinical testing and be able to put bladder control implants in humans by the year 2010," said Grill, who plans to carry out human experiments at Duke to follow up the research with cats.
Today, people with SCI typically manage their bladders with catheters or an implanted device that empties the bladder by stimulating sacral nerves at the base of the spine. However, implanting this "Vocare device" requires doctors to cut sensory nerves and insert electrodes into the spine. Many patients are reluctant to do this because of concerns about losing bowel control or sexual function such as erection in men and lubrication in women.
"Our goal is to create a system that performs as well as existing technology, but that is less invasive to install and preserves as much of the person's remaining function as possible," Grill said.
He envisions a simple system with an electrode on the pudendal nerve attached to an electrical signal stimulator placed in the abdomen. The bladder pacemaker operation would be optimized by a doctor and then run by the patient using a wireless control device.
Grill is a founding partner in NDI Medical Company, which has exclusive license to the selective stimulation patent relevant to this research. NDI Medical is also the U.S. distributor of the Vocare device.