Project aims to create artificial sphincter implants

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An adaptive implant that would be able to contract and relax like a natural muscle is being developed by researchers in at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

The research initiative Nano-Tera.ch will provide CH2.2m (€1.8m) to support the interdisciplinary research and development of the implant that is being designed for people with incontinence.

Mild cases of incontinence can be treated with medication but in severe cases doctors must attempt to repair the sphincter or implant an artificial one.

The hydraulic sphincter implants that are currently available are said to have major disadvantages. They exert significant and permanent pressure on the tissue, which can lead to damage of the anus. Further, they are often complicated to use, especially for older patients.

Given these problems, researchers led by Prof Bert Müller of the University of Basel’s Biomaterials Science Center, in cooperation with associated partners, are to develop an implant that would contract and relax like a natural muscle.

‘An intelligent sphincter would automatically increase the pressure when the patient coughs,’ said Müller in a statement.

The researchers will rely on 10,000nm thin plastic films that become warped when exposed to a voltage. The technology already exists in principle, but miniaturisation is needed to apply them in battery operated implants that can last for several years.

The components of the implant that convert electric signals into mechanical motion are to be designed and built based on electroactive polymers at the University of Basel.

The necessary performance electronics will be developed by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA, Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt). Clinicians from Bern and Schaffhausen will specify the required standards for the implant, and the University of Bern will conduct the testing.

The project will be led by Prof Müller, who is the Thomas Straumann Professor of Materials Science in Medicine at the University of Basel. Other partners include the Medical Faculty of the University of Bern, Inselspital Bern, EMPA, and the hospitals of Schaffhausen.

Myopowers, which already has experience with artificial sphincters for the treatment of urinary incontinence, has provided support in-kind.