When you gotta go

A car accident left Mike Brown paralysed below the waist.

He had to adapt to life in a wheelchair, and he did – marathons, road racing, surfing, the ski slopes. There was just one problem.

“I would wet my pants because my body’s natural sensor which told me when I needed to “go” no longer worked,” says Mike, who describes himself as an adventurer and entrepreneur.

“It’s embarrassing, but it can also be dangerous, as a build-up of urine can lead to kidney damage, and then you’re in real trouble.”

What if there were a sensor that could alert people that it was time to empty their bladder? Could this also work for people with Parkinson’s and other diseases where there is neurological damage?

Worldwide, there are around 500,000 new spinal cord injuries each year. The adult diaper market is worth about US$14 billion globally and growing faster than the infant diaper market.

While there are existing ultrasound products on the market, they don’t do the job as a wearable, particularly if the user has a lot of fatty tissue or is seated.

Together with an engineer and a urologist, they came up with a concept – and to test whether people could wear it, they made some mock-ups made from bits of a plastic chopping board and some surgical tape.

“We sent those out to people with spinal injuries to wear for a week and asked if they would such a device. The response was “This will change my world”.”

Their concept of a senor using radio waves won Uri-Go a Callaghan Innovation C-Prize for wearable technology. More funding enabled them to develop hardware and software. They’ve now created a prototype sensor accurate to 100mls, with the average safe bladder volume being between 400-500mls.

Mike describes the journey as “a lot of sweat equity and help from the community and the MedTech CoRE”.

The next step is to miniaturise the hardware with the goal of giving freedom to a million people worldwide by 2025. All going well, user trials are scheduled to start in December 2019, with a commercial release in October 2020 and entry into the US market in 2021.

He estimates the global market for Uri-Go at US $900 million annually.

“Currently, a patient like me costs ACC or their health insurer around NZ$667 a month in catheter supplies. With Uri-Go, that will drop to NZ$334 a month. That’s a strong inducement for insurance companies to lower their costs,” says Mike.

Millions of people worldwide are unable to sense the fullness of their bladder or control the voiding process. Beyond the personal anxiety this causes, there are also significant social, financial and medical consequences. Uri-Go is a slim, discreet, lightweight wearable device that gives users the certainty of knowing when to go.

By Prue Scott

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