Many children say that wetting their pants in class is one of the most stressful events in their lives. A new medical device, the SENS-U, measures whether the bladder is almost full and notifies the child that they need to go to the toilet. Paul van Leuteren, University of Twente PhD candidate and co-developer of this bladder sensor, defended his thesis on the underlying research last Thursday.
Urinary incontinence is a common problem in children. Paul van Leuteren encountered the problem when he was working at the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital in Utrecht during his first Master's internship in Technical Medicine. He started looking for a solution, and the result is a first clinical prototype of a device that uses ultrasound to measure how full the bladder is. He co-developed the sensor and carried out the underlying clinical trials as part of his PhD research.
The bladder sensor, a small device worn on the lower abdomen, gives a short vibration signal when the bladder is almost full, informing the child that it is time to visit the toilet and helping them avoid the potentially traumatic experience of wetting their pants. “Because the sensor works with ultrasound, it is not invasive and the device can be worn by the child all day long,” says van Leuteren.
In addition to preventing accidents, if combined with bladder training (urotherapy), the sensor can help train the child to go to the toilet on time. “The child learns to recognise the natural sensation of a full bladder,” explains Van Leuteren.“This can help prevent urinary incontinence and the child can eventually reduce the use of the SENS-U over time.”
Van Leuteren also investigated whether the bladder sensor could be used to prevent bed-wetting. To be useful here, the device must be able to measure the contents of the bladder in bed, but it must not disrupt the child’s sleep. The SENS-Uaccurately detected that the bladder was full in 83% of the cases. In the remaining 17% of cases, the bladder was not full enough to be measured (less than 30 ml). The sleeping behaviour of children who took part in the trial was not affected while wearing the SENS-U.
Finally, van Leuteren hopes that his research can help break the taboo on talking about urinary incontinence in children. “It is much more common than most people think. People who do talk about it often refer to ‘their little brother’ who suffered from it,” says Paul van Leuteren. He hopes the bladder sensor will show that urinary incontinence is not abnormal and that it helps children who suffer from it to live more carefree lives again.
PhD candidate Paul van Leuteren is part of the Magnetic Detection and Imaging (MD&I) research group. His supervisor is Prof. B. ten Haken of the Faculty of Science and Technology and his co-supervisor is Prof. P. Dik, who supervised the project at the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital. Van Leuteren successfully defended his thesis, entitled "Development, Validation and Implementation of a Wearable Ultrasonic Bladder Sensor for Pediatric Applications", on Thursday 10 December at the University of Twente.