Wireless device to diagnose bladder dysfunction

A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia indicates that a wireless near-infrared device the size of a cell phone is as reliable as current invasive tests in diagnosing bladder disease.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

In a recent study of 37 healthy and symptomatic adults and children, a wireless near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) device performed as well in diagnosing bladder disease as current and often invasive techniques, such as cystoscopy.

This wireless device measures oxygen availability and blood supply in bladder muscle. University of British Columbia

"Currently, diagnosing bladder dysfunction usually requires an invasive test that involves urethral and rectal catheter insertion to measure bladder pressure and urine output--a stressful and painful procedure that provides a limited amount of physiologic information," said lead author Andrew Macnab, a pediatrics and urology professor at the University of British Columbia, in a news release.

"Our study shows that near-infrared spectroscopy--a non-toxic and non-invasive method using light shone through the skin to monitor the microcirculation of the bladder--can detect changes in bladder physiology that are proving characteristic for specific causes of voiding dysfunction."

The researchers placed the device on participants' skin over the bladder, held in place using a strap, to look for differences in the amount of light shining through the skin to (and returning from) the bladder wall. This data allowed them to measure changing hemoglobin concentration and oxygen levels in the blood.

Using the device, the team was able to see consistent patterns of normal oxygen availability and blood supply in the bladder muscle of healthy individuals during urination, and inconsistent patterns seen when blood flow or oxygen supply is inadequate for normal muscle function in symptomatic individuals.

The researchers think this finding could prove useful beyond diagnosis. "Little is known about the physiology of voiding dysfunction," Macnab says. "NIRS could help us determine whether blood flow in the bladder muscle is a root cause of incontinence and in turn develop new therapeutics to cure these conditions."

Macnab's team reports that incontinence affects 53 percent of all long-term-care residents, and that one-third of men and women aged 30 to 70 experience loss of bladder control at some point.

The first to use NIRS to investigate bladder disease in children, the study is published in the current issue of the International Journal of Spectroscopy. Macnab says his team is currently exploring the use of wireless NIRS in long-term monitoring of patients with urinary incontinence.