Pick a problem in the body – any problem – and solve it. This is exactly what Margot Damaser, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute did when searching for a dissertation topic while pursuing her doctorate in biomedical engineering. She had been fascinated by smooth muscle, and noticed a huge lack of advances in the field of incontinence. And with that, she immersed herself in bladder control and urodynamics to see if there’s a better way to give patients – especially women – an accurate and more comfortable diagnosis and treatment. With that choice 20 years ago, a spark was lit, and Damaser hasn’t looked back.
“When looking at the facts, the choice wasn’t hard. There are 15 million women in the United States that suffer from incontinence, and are generally diagnosed by testing pressure with a catheter in the urethra during an appointment,” says Damaser. “It’s not natural. It’s not comfortable, and the readings aren’t very accurate.”
To move the field along, Damaser needed to start from the ground floor. This meant finding animal models that could replicate female forms for incontinence. Without much prior work in this field, Damaser and her lab went to work developing the models themselves. They tested these models and discovered new ways to not only measure the fluid dynamics and muscle control, but also how to stimulate the muscles themselves. They soon realized they could make these systems “smart.”
“In many ways today, toaster technology is smarter than healthcare,” says Damaser. “We knew it was time to make bladder control smarter from a diagnostic and therapy standpoint—all it would take is a few innovative electrical engineers, which we were lucky to find in our own backyard.”
After describing the research and problem at the Advanced Platform Technology Center of the Cleveland VA Hospital, Steve Garverick and Steve Majerus of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at Case Western Reserve University, were excited to digitize the wireless incontinence diagnosis and therapy system for the first time. Working side by side with Damaser’s lab, the new team generated the UroMonitor, which is a small device inserted into the bladder and left for a period of time. The UroMonitor captures the same data traditionally obtained using catheters, and transmits it wirelessly to an external receiver.
To close the diagnosis-to-therapy loop, the team is currently developing the UroControl, which will take the readings of the UroMonitor and deploy electric stimulation to automatically control the muscles, and avoid incontinence. The project is ambitious, but Damaser is confident it’s a winner.
“We have demonstrated the UroMonitor and UroControl can work, and we have a world class manufacturing firm as a joint development partner,” says Damaser. “The next step is to identify the industry partner that can help us with the finishing touches and clearance for clinical trials.”
While Damaser is closing in on the commercialization, there is a passion beyond the inner workings of smooth muscle control that ultimately drives her.
“It’s really about control in general,” says Damaser. “One-size-fits-all is over. We’re at an age where we can understand our own bodies more than ever before. We just have to listen. And we have to build and invest in technologies that enable that.”
To learn more, please contact Bill Kolosi, Product Development Manager, Medical Device Incubator.