Hearing implants are a life-line for those suffering from hearing disabilities. Today, nearly 1.5 million people worldwide suffer from serious hearing impairments. Additionally, the current implants do not meet various needs like catering to inner ear damage, among others. Researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanna laboratory promise to change that.
The team led by Stephanie Lacour has developed a soft electronic interface. The device was tested in mice. With its small surface area of 0.25 mm2, and promised compatibility with surgical techniques. The study published in the Science Translational Medicine will undergo human trials as soon as the suitable size for human use is prepared.
Furthermore, the device solves major challenges with conventional hearing devices. Earlier, hearing devices often did not fit the curved surface of auditory brainstem. On the other hand, this device fits perfectly and send highly targeted electrical signals.
Transferring of electrical signals to the brain is highly essential. The conventional device known as auditory brainstem implant or ABI delivered mixed outcomes. These devices proved to be stiff and often lead to less than desirable results.
A Promising New Technique
According to Nicolas Vachicouras, the device uses platinum which is the common gateway in clinical settings. The platinum electrodes are encased in Silicone. The use of platinum was a challenge earlier. Platinum is a rigid metal. Applying it without a distortion can potentially result in damage to the material. The researchers worked around this problem by using a traditional Japanese paper-cutting technique. This technique, kirigami helped etch a Y-shaped pattern into metalized plastic segments. As a result, the final device is a highly conductive and compliant implant.
Moreover, the invention promises new applications. According to Stephanie Lacour, the device can be tried in several other requirements for implantable neuroprosthetics. Currently, clinical research centers around recording and stimulating neural activity in brain, and spine, or even peripheral nerves.
The new hearing aid promises to bring good news for millions of ears around the world.