An Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist has made groundbreaking strides in research using models developed by his colleagues at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center that could ultimately lead to a reliable diagnostic method for a painful bladder disease.
In a paper published by the Journal of Urology, lead author and OMRF scientist Rheal Towner, Ph.D., reveals an innovative method to diagnose bladder leakage, which is a major symptom for patients with interstitial cystitis, also known as “bladder pain syndrome.”
Towner said doctors normally look for about 20 different clinical signs that point to the presence of the condition. But, as of now, there is no reliable method for diagnosing interstitial cystitis. It is often misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection.
Towner and his colleagues are out to change that by taking a new approach to an old method of testing.
Towner took a chemical agent that is currently being used to enhance contrast in an MRI image and injected it directly into the bladders of rodents, rather than administering the contrast agent intravenously, which is the standard method.
“After injecting it directly into the bladder through a catheter, we look for any leakage of that contrast agent,” said Towner. “If the bladder wall is permeable, then that contrast agent will leak out into the peritoneal cavity, and that helps identify a key symptom of the disease.”
Following positive results in laboratory experiments, clinical trials were launched in human patients under the direction of Robert Hurst, Ph.D., at OU’s Stephenson Cancer Center.
The research, which has been underway for two years, was done in collaboration with OUHSC’s Hurst and Amy Wisniewski, Ph.D., of the Department of Urology; Abbas Shobeiri, M.D., Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and Beverley Greenwood-Van Meerveld, Ph.D., director of the Oklahoma Center for Neuroscience.
Bladder pain syndrome affects an estimated 4 million people in the U.S. and is primarily found in women. It can seriously impact quality of life; in addition to chronic pain, the disease can force some people to urinate as often as 60 times per day. The condition can take months or even years to diagnose.
“When children are born with non-functioning bladders or people lose their bladder due to cancer, it has a major impact on their quality of life,” said Towner.
The research scientists are also working on additional projects using the new technique with OUHSC researchers Bradley Kropp, M.D., and H.K. Lin, Ph.D., who are studying bladder regeneration.
“Disease-relevant research takes time and hard work, and fresh ideas like this can open doors to a wide range of possible discoveries that have us excited for the future,” said OMRF Vice President of Research Paul Kincade, Ph.D. “We are enthusiastic about these findings and the impact they could have for treatment.”