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Wednesday 26th October 2016

Next generation ear implants

11th June 2007

A new device which is fitted directly to the auditory nerve may be the next generation of ear implants available to help the profoundly deaf.


Scientists at the University of Michigan team say the device works better than the current leading technology, cochlear implants.

So far it has been tested only on animals, however.

Cochlear implants, available since the mid eighties, are placed close to the auditory nerve, but still separated from it by bone and fluid, making it hard for them to convey low-pitched sounds to the brain.

This makes it hard to hear conversation in a noisy environment.

The new device, reported in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, sits inside the auditory nerve. In a study on cats, the new device performed better over a wider range of frequencies than the current implants. The results were compared with a group of cats fitted with cochlear implants.

Researchers said the new technology appeared to solve a lot of the problems posed by cochlear implants.

Lead Michigan researcher John Middlebrooks said the intimate contact of the gadget with the nerve fibres achieved a more precise activation of fibres signalling specific frequencies. It also reduced electrical current requirements and dramatically reduced interference, he said.

Middlebrooks said his team would monitor how the auditory nerve coped with the implant over the next two years. If the work went well, human trials were possible in five years' time, he added.

Carl Verschuur, audiology lecturer at the University of Southampton's Institute of Sound and Vibration, said the idea was a potentially brillant one, although it might present some technical challenges with maintaining the position of the implant.

Brian Lamb, from the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, said cochlear implants were themselves a revolution for the deaf, and that the new implants could offer major benefits if successfully transferred to humans.

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