These Hearing Implants Could Help People with Inner Ear Damage

Ordinary hearing implants generally tend to be useless for people suffering from inner ear damage or auditory nerve issues. These people require an auditory brainstem implant that sends electrical signals directly to the auditory brainstem. These too, often tend to do an incomplete job.

To overcome this obstacle, a team of researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory for Soft BioElectronic Interface (LSBI) has developed a comfortable electrode implant to counter inner ear damage more effectively. This highly elastic implant adapts neatly to the curved surface of the auditory brainstem to send more targeted signals than conventional implants.

It uses an array of platinum electrodes wrapped in silicon, but since platinum is a rigid metal, it cannot be distorted without being damaged. The researchers overcame this obstacle by using the Japanse paper cutting technique called kirigami for micro-level machining to deal with the metal’s stiffness. The result was a highly conductive and much more pliable electrode implant.

The apparatus works successfully on mice and has now been reproduced for humans in a way that is compatible with current surgical techniques. However, it still has a long way to go as it still needs to be studied further for preparation in human trials.

If everything goes smoothly, this new technology might be able to successfully recover human hearing. Doctors might even find possible uses on other parts of the human body, including the brain, spine, or anywhere else to stimulate neural activity.