The European WOMEN-UP project has developed technology that allows women with incontinence to follow their treatment prescribed by physical therapists at home and in a correct way. The 21 women who already tried it rated it positively. They were more motivated to follow the programme.

Photo of WomenUp wearable device worn around the waist.

The WOMEN-UP system is designed to improve pelvic floor muscle training, the recommended treatment to prevent or treat urinary incontinence. This technological solution incorporates serious games for mobile phones that are driven by muscle movement and remote medical monitoring through a web platform.

Incontinence affects 1 in 3 women

Urinary incontinence (any involuntary urine leakage) can be more or less severe, and it affects one in three women of all ages, which is more than 56 million people in Europe and more than 350 million people in the world.

Dr. Montserrat Espuña, head of the Pelvic Floor Unit at the Barcelona Hospital Clínic, says: "One approach that has proven effective in preventing and treating stress urinary incontinence is pelvic floor muscle training. It consists of a programme of contraction and relaxation exercises for the muscles that form the base of the pelvis. If the treatment is followed and performed correctly with the supervision of a therapist, the rate of cure/improvement may reach 70%."

Remote supervision

According to Dr. Espuña, it is very important to know whether the patient is doing the exercises properly. "This can be achieved through biofeedback devices and computer programs that record—via the electrodes in a vaginal probe—and show muscle activity during the exercises. Only a few clinical devices have this technology and none of them monitor abdominal activity to ensure that the exercises are executed correctly."

The WOMEN-UP system consists of three elements:

  1. Wireless devices that capture muscle contractions and send the data to your smartphone;
  2. A web platform that collects data and charts the progression of the treatment, and;
  3. A smartphone application that contains motivational games.

"The therapist obtains information telematically through the platform and monitors and programs customised exercises, while the patient can evaluate the results in real time. Both the patient and the therapist can see the evolution at any time," explains Miguel Ángel Mañanas, the project’s coordinator and professor at the UPC’s Department of Automatic Control.

First tests in Barcelona and Kuopio

From late 2016 until February 2017, the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, in coordination with Kuopio University Hospital (Finland), ran a technical test with 21 patients: 11 from Barcelona and 10 from Kuopio. The test analysed the operation of the first prototype of the system. The participants gave positive feedback and made suggestions that will help to improve it before the clinical trial. "We have seen that patients are more motivated to train than they were before. They therefore have more chances of success in treatment," says Dr. Espuña.

Call for 300 volunteers

In September this year, the WOMEN-UP project will carry out a final clinical trial of the system with a group of 300 women with light or mild stress urinary incontinence. It will be an international, multicentre trial involving the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, the Academic Medical Center of Amsterdam and the Kuopio University Hospital.

The call for volunteers who wish to participate has already begun on Dr. Espuña: "Specifically, we are looking for 110 volunteers in Barcelona, 110 in Amsterdam and 80 in Finland, a large and varied sample that will allow patients, doctors and nurses to assess health systems that follow different patterns to achieve the same objective: the continued training of the pelvic floor muscles".

About the project

The WOMEN-UP project aims to improve the quality of life of women with urinary incontinence, to greatly reduce the cost of long-term care and lost productivity due to urinary incontinence - nearly 10 billion dollars, according to the World Health Organisation - and to shorten waiting lists. This is the first project of this magnitude that focuses on the treatment of this condition. The final product will respond to the needs and demands of patients and professionals and will be marketed by a company in the multidisciplinary consortium that is developing the project.

  • Running period: February 2015 until July 2018
  • Total cost: €3.5 million, of which the EU finances over €3.2 million through the Horizon 2020 programme
  • Consortium: Universitat Politècnica Catalunya (UPC) - the project’s leader - and the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona (both Spain), Mega Electronics Company Ltd. and Kuopio University Hospital (KUH) in Finland, the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam, the European Urogynaecological Association (EUGA), BabeČ™-Bolyai University (BBU) in Romania and Swiss company YouRehab Ltd.

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