It has won an army of celebrity fans for banishing crow's feet and frown lines, but the use of Botox to combat bladder problems such as incontinence has been hailed as a 'major advance' by a urology expert.
Christopher Chapple, a visiting professor at Sheffield Hallam University, said poisonous botulinum toxin could be used therapeutically to treat bladder storage and sensation problems such as incontinence and cystitis. Professor Chapple, who is carrying out new research into the treatment at the University's Biomedical Research Centre, said it had successfully helped eighty per cent of cases during recent trials.
He explained in a lecture at Sheffield Hallam that a simple injection of the substance into the bladder lining could bring relief to some of the ten per cent of people in the UK who currently suffer from an overactive bladder, which is resistant to other drug therapy.
"Doctors are now realising the role of the bladder lining as the cause of problems to do with frequent or painful passing of urine. By injecting the patient's bladder lining with botulinum toxin, we can block the release of nerve transmitter substances and sensory nerves, which means that the patient doesn't feel the need to go to the toilet as often. It also means we don't have to rely on intensive drug therapy, or invasive surgery.
"Around ten per cent of the current UK population has an overactive bladder, while nearly a third of us will experience bladder storage or sensation problems at some point in our lives.
"The bladder normally stores urine at a low pressure, until it can be passed at a socially acceptable time, but some people have problems storing urine and need to go frequently, and urgently. Problems can occur with age, or sometimes as the result of a neurological disorder such as multiple sclerosis.
"Imagine you've come home after a few drinks, you need to pee, and you're fumbling to get the key in the door - that's the sensation some of these people experience every day."
"Treatment with botulinum toxin has been successful in eighty per cent of cases so far. Work is still ongoing, but there is no doubt that it is a major advance that will really improve sufferers' quality of life."
Botulinum toxin, commercially known as Botox, is highly toxic, but is used in minute doses to control muscle spasms. Demi Moore and Madonna have reportedly benefited from its cosmetic, wrinkle-softening effects.
The simple bladder lining treatment lasts between three and six months, and can be administered to outpatients under local anesthetic.
Around fifty people have currently been treated with the botulinum toxin treatment. Professor Chapple and his team are now involved in clinical trials, and will publish further findings at the end of the current, 18-month long research project.
Professor Chapple has a specialist interest in reconstructive surgery and is also working on engineering tissue to carry out urethral reconstruction. Other research is ongoing in the research group to investigate the underlying problems behind bladder and prostate problems.
Christopher Chapple is a Consultant Urological Surgeon at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
He spoke at Sheffield Hallam University on Wednesday 21 February, 2007.