Researchers are building a computerized model that could inform new, highly targeted, less painful therapies for people with lower urinary tract diseases.
Supported by a $3 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, Zachary Danziger, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the FIU School of Engineering and Computing, and colleagues will use the model to investigate how the nervous system and urinary tract use it. The tracts are connected.
They want to understand how electrical stimulation of specific nerves can help people with an underactive bladder—one of the most common lower urinary tract problems without many treatment options—caused by various factors, such as aging, neurological disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and more.
said Danziger, the principal investigator for the grant College of Engineering and Computers. The nervous system controls many functions of the body, including the urinary tract.
Controlling these nerves with electrical impulses could theoretically restore proper bladder function. The challenge is that researchers must pinpoint the correct nerve to make it work. The nervous system is very complex, and an electrical signal to the wrong nerve can have unintended consequences, such as causing a random twitch, raising blood pressure, or causing pain.
Danziger, who is an expert in this field of biomedical engineering, said there aren’t many treatments available on the market for urological problems today.
“For people with an underactive bladder where urine is not completely emptied, the only current option for relief is insertion of a catheter, which can be quite uncomfortable,” Danziger said.
Scientists will create a digital twin of the urinary tract to create the frame. This fully computerized model of the bladder and surrounding parts will help scientists focus costly experimental efforts.
“You can’t do anything you want to a human being for the sake of scientific progress. It’s not ethical. That’s why these two digital twins of the body become fundamental,” said Deniz Erdgmus, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University and a member of the interdisciplinary team of researchers.
The research will boil down to a heavy dose of interdisciplinary work. In the urology system, some things can be explicitly determined by mathematics, such as how much fluid enters the bladder and how much comes out. However, some aspects are still unknown, particularly regarding neuronal control of the urinary tract. Here, artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used to connect the dots.
“In addressing some of the challenges in this research, we had to go back to the origins of theories in computer science and mathematics to make sure they are compatible with each other,” said Giovanna Guidoboni, a professor of mathematics. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Missouri and member of the research team. “In this way, we do more than just study the urinary system.”
It’s an ambitious approach that could have implications for how we study the human body.
The research team expects to have new treatment predictions based on their theories and computational models within three to four years. In future work, researchers will need to validate those predictions by running tests.
The team of researchers includes Danziger, Guidoponi, and Erdgmos, as well as Associate Research Professors Somintra Rampersad and Thales Imperipa of Northeastern University, John Yen, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Elie El-Haggar of the US Military Academy. .