Thanks to a partnership between engineer Frank Shi (pictured) and urolgist Ralph Clayman, silicone materials formulated for optoelectronic devices (foreground) now will be used for breakthrough medical device applications. (Credit: Daniel A. Anderson/UC Irvine Communications)

UC IRVINE (US)—What’s the connection between solar cells and urinary tract disorders? Research by Frank Shi. His team at the University of California, Irvine developed a specially formulated silicone for use in optical electronics. New findings suggest the substance could play a double role, revolutionizing treatment of urinary tract diseases.

Shi, a chemical engineering and material sciences professor known for innovative research on electronic materials and devices like lasers and solar cells, never thought his work would have medical applications. But urology professor Ralph Clayman came calling last year.

While urologists use a number of devices in treating patients—stents and catheters, to name just two—these devices must be replaced continually because urine leaves behind mineral deposits that form potentially dangerous and infection-causing clumps.

“The ongoing challenge,” says Clayman, who has designed a number of urologic devices during his career, “is to find a biocompatible substance on which this mineral clumping will not occur, allowing for longer or even permanent use of the device.”

Believing that Shi’s novel silicone material could be a viable nonstick substance, the duo tested the substance for its anticlumping properties and found that items made with it and placed in artificial urine emerged free of mineral deposits—a breakthrough discovery that could help thousands of Americans with bladder diseases or cancers.

The finding points to the potential of what Clayman calls the “home run” of his field—the development of a fully synthetic prosthetic bladder.

UC Irvine has applied for a provisional patent on this silicone product for urologic device use, and Clayman says a major manufacturer is considering licensing it for making urinary stents.

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