Southampton surgeons pioneer use of revolutionary device for bowel problems

Axonics SNM System

Surgeons at Southampton’s university hospitals have become the first in the world to implant a new miniature pacemaker-like device to treat patients with bowel incontinence.

The innovation, known as the Axonics Sacral Neuromodulation System (SNM System), improves symptoms by sending mild electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves at the base of the spine to control bowel function.

It is placed under the skin in a comfortable area of the upper buttock and connected to a thin soft lead which is situated near the tailbone.

The Axonics SNS System is the first rechargeable device of its kind – giving it a 15-year lifespan – and is 60% smaller than other sacral neuromodulation models, which are currently non-rechargeable and require surgical replacement every four to five years.

Patients are given a small remote control to allow communication with the device and manage the strength of the electrical impulses, as well as a wireless charger which is used for one hour every week.

Bowel – or faecal – incontinence, which is an inability to control bowel movements and results in involuntary soiling, affects around 3% of the UK working population, with incidence rising in the elderly. The cost of treating both urinary and faecal incontinence is estimated to be more than £500 million a year.

Although a range of treatments are used to treat incontinence, such as diet and lifestyle changes, exercise programmes, medication and surgery, sacral neuromodulation has proved to be effective in around two-thirds of patients who receive the therapy.

To date, more than 35 patients have received the implant in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK as part of a study into its effectiveness for the treatment of overactive bladder.

Now, Thomas Dudding, a consultant colorectal and pelvic floor surgeon at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, has performed the first two implants in patients to evaluate its performance as an aid to treat bowel incontinence.

“This is a major advancement in the surgical treatment of patients with faecal incontinence,” he said.

“The device will not only ensure better comfort for patients due to its smaller size, the fact it is rechargeable and will last for 15 years eliminates the need for repeat surgery with its associated risks and costs.”

He added: “My patients have experienced significant improvements in their conditions in less than two weeks since the implant surgery and I’m delighted we are at the forefront of a development which could transform treatment for millions of people.”

A further 10 patients with bowel incontinence at UHS will receive the implant as part of the evaluation.

Posted on Wednesday 21 December 2016