Curing Incontinence

The number one reason for placing an elderly relative in a nursing home is incontinence!  Dr. Damaser’s laboratory in the Department of Biomedical Engineering investigates female pelvic floor dysfunction (FPFD), including loss of bladder and bowel control and injuries to the female pelvic organs.  These conditions are common among older women, with up to 50% of women over age 50 having one or more types of FPFD.  Current noninvasive treatments are limited.  Most often, treatment involves surgery, usually a reinforcement of pelvic organ support via implantation of a graft or mesh, but such surgery does not improve the underlying causes of the condition.  Also, FPFD surgeries historically have had a 30% “re-do” rate, suggesting that there is an unmet need for therapies that would directly address the causes of the disorder and the changes that arise from it, therefore ensuring a greater success rate.

FPFD often results from injuries affecting the mother during childbirth (maternal injuries), so the team is investigating the nature of such injuries and the post-injury healing process, with the goal of preventing FPFD or improving its treatment.  The first year after childbirth may represent a window of time in which doctors could give some kind of therapy to encourage healing and to treat current and prevent future FPFD.  To this end, the group has developed experimental models of FPFD that imitate these maternal injuries.  The investigators have a theory that competing muscle and nerve injuries during childbirth lead to slower regrowth of nerves and not enough new nerves within the muscles responsible for bladder and bowel control, leading to wasting of the muscles and resulting incontinence.  Genetic factors may make recovery more difficult by reducing the repair and regrowth of the “extracellular matrix” – a natural meshlike structure of connective tissue that supports the pelvic organs.

The Damaser laboratory is currently looking at several types of therapy, including treatment with growth factors, that might lead to better healing.  They are also studying the use of stem cell therapy to prevention and/or treat FPFD.

Summary:  Dr. Damaser is developing new, minimally invasive methods with few side effects or risk factors to treat and prevent bladder and bowel incontinence and female pelvic floor disorders.

See also: Damaser Lab