Healthcast: Spinal cord stimulator restores bladder control


More than 80 percent of Americans who suffer spinal cord injuries lose the ability to urinate and have to rely on catheters to empty their bladders. That can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and can lead to infections and even death. Now, researchers are testing a new way to restore bladder control.

Twenty-nine-year-old Hinesh Patel broke his neck and damaged his spine when he fell off a balcony last year. The MD/ PhD student has traveled the world and was super active. He’s getting back mobility, but so far, not the ability to urinate without a catheter.

“Now you really have to think about that because if you don’t manage it well, then you can also get worse health problems.” Patel said.

UCLA’s Neuroscientist Daniel Lu, MD, PhD, is running his second study using a magnet to stimulate the part of the spinal cord that controls bladder function.

“The injury’s oftentimes not a complete injury. There are residual pathways still connected past the injury point.” Said Dr. Lu.

In the first study, five men got magnetic stimulation for 15 minutes a week. After four months, two stopped using a catheter completely, two had substantial improvement, and one had moderate improvement.

“It modifies the signal in such a way that it become functional, that the neurons and circuits at the spinal cord level can interpret that as a viable signal,” Dr. Lu explained.

Patel is in Dr. Lu’s second trial. He’s gone in for 15 minutes twice a week for four months. It’s a blinded study, so he doesn’t know if he’s actually getting treatment, but believes he’s regaining sensation.

Patel says, “Just means more control over your life in that regard.”

The magnetic stimulation device is FDA approved but is experimental for this particular use. In the second study of 15 men and women, Dr. Lu is hoping to find out why the magnets work better on some people than others, and what doses provide the best and longest-lasting results. In the first trial, the positive effects started degrading a few weeks after treatment stopped.

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