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Spinal Injury and Bladder Control

  Spinal Injury and Bladder Control
  Chronic step training under the influence of stimulation results in an increase in spontaneous bladder voiding both during routine cage activity as well as during treadmill stepping.
Graphic: Courtesy of Drs. V. Reggie Edgerton and Parag Gad

People who have suffered spinal-cord injuries often are susceptible to bladder infections, and those infections can cause kidney damage and even death. To address this issue, UCLA researchers studied a group of paralyzed rats and found that with training and epidural stimulation, the animals could empty their bladders more fully and in a more timely manner.

“The big deal here is the immediate effect,” says V. Reggie Edgerton, PhD, distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology, neurobiology and neurosurgery. “There may be a way for a person who has bladder problems to turn the stimulator on and release urine at will. This strategy could have a major impact in improving the quality of life and longevity of patients. We’re not saying it will restore this part of their lives to normal, but we think it will lead to a significant improvement in quality of life,” he says.

Dr. Edgerton believes there is a connection between the neural networks that control walking and bladder function and is planning to investigate the connection. To research bladder control with human subjects, his team plans to place electrodes on the skin over a critical part of the spinal cord and evaluate their improvement. This approach follows on the heels of earlier research by Dr. Edgerton and colleagues from the University of Louisville in which they used epidural stimulation of the spinal cord to enable four young men who had been paralyzed for years to voluntarily move their legs, hips, ankles and toes.

“The circuitry in the spinal cord is remarkably resilient,” Dr. Edgerton says. “Once you get them up and active, many physiological systems that are intricately connected and that were dormant come back into play.”

“Initiation of Bladder Voiding with Epidural Stimulation in Paralyzed, Step Trained Rats,” PLOS ONE, September 29, 2014

“Altering spinal cord excitability enables voluntary movements after chronic complete paralysis in humans,” Brain, April 8, 2014


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