A team of researchers from around the world, including engineers at the University of Utah, received a $ 9.7 million grant to design and develop a new implantable device and surgical procedure for the deaf that we hope will cut the noise and produce a lot of sounds more detailed than traditional hearing aids. loss treatments.
This new procedure involves the use of a new version of the Utah Electrode Array architecture, a brain-computer interface originally developed by University of Utah professor emeritus of biomedical engineering, Richard Normann, who can send and receive electrical impulses from the brain. The version used here is a special variant of the Utah Slanted Electrode Array designed for use on peripheral nerves. Versions of the Utah Electrode Array are being developed to allow amputees to move their prosthetic limbs with their mind and in this case to hear sounds of higher resolution than with regular cochlear implants.
Since the mid-1980s, cochlear implants have been used to treat hundreds of thousands of deaf patients. It uses a tiny device implanted in the cochlea – a spiral cavity of the inner ear that produces nerve impulses from sound vibrations – to stimulate the auditory nerve. But implants do not work for everyone due to the anatomy of some patients or other malformations. And for those in which it works, the sounds they hear may not be detailed, preventing them from distinguishing music or understanding voices in a noisy room, for example.
The new procedure, which is being funded by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, could help those who are not normally candidates for cochlear implants, said University of Utah professor of electrical and computer engineering Florian Solzbacher. That's because the Utah Electrode Array set, a small silicon chip (1.2 x 1.8 mm) attached to a bundle of wires and connected to a stimulator device, is implanted directly into the patient's auditory nerve as opposed to the cochlea.
"You have a much higher sound resolution, which means you can cover more individual frequencies and have a better tonal range," says Solzbacher, who is U's principal researcher working on the team. "That should allow you to get a more realistic hearing."
Another benefit of this technology is that the electrode array can be connected to existing hearing aids normally used in regular cochlear implants and does not require specially designed devices. As a clinical product, the implanted arrangement should be designed to last about 30 years on the body.
During the first three years of the grant, the team will develop the technology and surgical procedure and ensure that it is safe and effective. The last two years will be dedicated to implantation of the devices in three patients with hearing loss who are not normally candidates for cochlear implants.
The team will be led by researchers at the University of Minnesota and will include scientists from the Feinstein Institute of Medical Research, the research arm of Northwell Health, based in Manhasset, New York; Hannover Medical School, a university medical center in Hannover, Germany; International Institute of Neuroscience in Hannover, Germany; Clinical Trials Center of Hannover, Germany; Blackrock Microsystems LLC, headquartered in Salt Lake City, an implantable neurotechnology device company that has been developing the Utah Electrode Array; and MED-EL, an Austrian manufacturer of medical devices for hearing loss.
The Utah Electrode Array by Normann, which he began to develop in the 1980s, has also been used in a variety of research including pain modulation, development of a bionic eye that can help the blind to see again, control the bladder , regulate epilepsy, for neural disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.