Incontinence has become a widespread disease: there are some eight million sufferers in Germany alone. Together with DUALIS MedTech GmbH, Fraunhofer EMFT is working on a new artificial sphincter technology that allows a combination of diagnostics and therapy (theranostics). The sphincter function is realized in passive systems by opening and closing the urethra by means of a fluid-filled sleeve. However, the quantity of hydraulic fluid in the sleeve and therefore the closure function is not controlled manually, as in conventional solutions, but through the interaction of active microelectronic components: one micropump is responsible for emptying the sleeve, another is responsible for filling it. Both components are currently being developed at Fraunhofer EMFT. The actuators meet essential demands for the application such as high throughflow rates and a fast response, small size and low energy consumption. The newly developed articles have to be corrosion-proof and as well as being MRI-capable.
The integration of two pressure sensors also ensures that if threshold levels in the sleeve and/or the reservoir are exceeded – due to unforeseen occurrences such as coughing or laughing, for example – the pressure is automatically adjusted so that continence is ensured at all times. A remote control allows the treating physician to set tissue-preserving normal pressure at all times, without surgery. It is also simple for the patient to manually adjust the sleeve pressure (e.g. using preset modes such as sport and night mode).