Reporter: Shannon Samson
Collagen isn't just a wrinkle-filler. It's been used for years to bulk up the urethra, to make it stronger so urine won't leak out unexpectedly.
The only problem is the body absorbs the collagen, so patients need more of it down the road. Synthetic bulking agents decrease the need for re-injections and a new one does so using the same material found in bones and teeth.
Any pressure to the abdomen causes embarrassing leaks for patients with incontinence. For 63-year-old Jean Karmire, that includes walking. "I've learned how to get around the issue. I usually take a jacket with me so I can put it in front of me."
Ten minutes in the operating room is all it takes to correct her problem. Dr. Paul Siami inserts a scope into the urethra, the muscular canal that carries urine out of the body. With a tiny needle, he injects something called coaptite.
The idea is to bulk up the two inner walls of the urethra, so they will close together more tightly and stop leaks. Dr. Siami says, "A little bit of it will come out just like that, but that's OK. It's normal."
There's little back flow because it's a gel and not a liquid. Dr. Siami says, "When we actually feel it on our fingers, it feels like toothpaste."
Like collagen, part of coaptite will eventually be absorbed in the body. But coaptite also contains calcium and phosphate that stick around much longer. The tiny particles cause an inflammatory reaction in the body.
As it heals, new cells cement the particles in place, keeping the walls of the urethra thicker longer. Dr. Siami says, "So that will hopefully give us the mass effect that we want, which will cause a blockage or obstruction through the easy flow of urine out of bladder, not the normal evacuation of the bladder, but when they cough, laugh and sneeze and it also squirts out. That's what we don't want."
And neither does Jean, who is looking forward to leaving her jacket at home. Whereas collagen injections usually last a year, coaptite injections can provide relief for up to three years.
And side effects? There's a slight chance of infection or losing the ability to urinate. But that only happens to less than five percent of patients.