Zachary Danziger, Ph.D., assistant professor at Florida International University’s Biomedical Engineering Department, has recently been awarded a Pilot Research Grant of over $280,000 from the Craig H. Nielsen Foundation. The grant will aid Zachary Danziger with his research into improving bladder reflexes following spinal cord injury using electrical nerve stimulation. The results will provide knowledge and potential new treatments for clinicians to implement a better way to manage the bladder dysfunction that follows spinal injury.

Under typical circumstances, the urinary bladder sends information to the brain and the brain sends command signals back to the bladder about when to initiate a void. However, after a spinal cord injury this back-and-forth communication between brain and bladder is severely disrupted. The result is that the bladder is no longer able to contract to void its contents – urine begins to accumulate, and catheterization is required to prevent damage to the rest of the urinary tract.


Diagram of Bladder Reflex


In most cases, some form of reflex bladder contraction emerges during recovery from the initial spinal injury. However, this newly developed “compensatory reflex” is weaker than the original reflex and it does not act constructively with a relaxation of the urethral sphincter to void the bladder effectively. The compensatory reflex may also emerge too late to prevent negative changes that occur to the bladder following the initial spinal injury, such as harmful stretching from urine accumulation, and a toughening of the bladder wall that makes it more difficult to contract.

Zachary Danziger’s study will help to better understand the development of the compensatory reflex in quantitative terms. His study will also include speeding up the development of the compensatory reflex, as well as its effectiveness, by electrically stimulating the bladder nerves when the bladder would ordinarily void. This may strengthen the new reflex, potentially reduce the required frequency of intermittent catheterization, and prevent some lasting damage to the bladder and urinary tract.