Researchers are building a computerized model that could inform new, highly
targeted, and less painful treatments for people with lower urinary tract conditions.

With support from a $3 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of
Health, Zachary Danziger, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the FIU
College of Engineering and Computing, and his colleagues will use the model to
investigate how the nervous system and urinary tract are connected.

They want to understand how electric stimulation of certain specific nerves could
help people struggling with underactive bladders — one of the most common lower
urinary tract problems without many treatment options — caused by different
factors, such as aging, neurological disorders, Parkinson’s disease and more.

We are looking to come up with a theory that says, ‘If you do this to the nervous
system around the bladder, then this will happen in the bladder,’” said Danziger,
principal investigator of the grant at the College of Engineering and Computing. The
nervous system controls many functions in the body, including the urinary tract.

Controlling those nerves with electrical pulses could theoretically restore proper
bladder function. The challenge is that researchers must pinpoint the correct nerve
to make it work. The nervous system is highly complex, and an electrical signal to
the wrong nerve could have unintended consequences, like causing a random
twitch, raising blood pressure or creating pain.

There are not many therapies available on the market for urinary tract issues today,
said Danziger, an expert in this area of biomedical engineering.

“For people with underactive bladder where urine does not completely evacuate, the
only current option for relief is to insert a catheter, which can be quite
uncomfortable,” Danziger said.

The scientists will create a digital twin of the urinary tract to create the framework.
This completely computerized model of the bladder and its surrounding parts will
help scientists focus costly experimental efforts.

“You can’t do anything you want to a human for the sake of scientific progress. It’s
not ethical. For this reason, these digital twins of the body become essential,” said
Deniz Erdogmus, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern
University and a member of the interdisciplinary team of researchers.

The research will come down to a heavy dose of interdisciplinary work. In the
urinary tract system, some things can be explicitly defined by math, such as how
much liquid goes into the bladder and how much goes out. However, some aspects
are still unknown, especially concerning the urinary tract’s neural controls. Here,
artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used to connect the dots.

“When addressing some of the challenges in this research, we’ve had to go back to
the origins of the theories in computer science and mathematics to make sure that
they are consistent with each other,” said Giovanna Guidoboni, a professor of math,
electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Missouri and a
member of the research team. “In this way, we are doing more than studying the
urinary tract system.”

It’s an ambitious approach that could have implications for how the human body is
studied.

The research team expects to have new therapeutic predictions based on their
theory and computational models within three to four years. In future work, the
researchers will need to validate those predictions by conducting tests.
The team of researchers includes Danziger, Guidoboni, Erdogmus as well as
assistant research professors Sumientra Rampersad and Tales Imbiriba from
Northeastern University, John Yin, professor of chemical and biological engineering
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Elie Alhajjar at the United States
Military Academy