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Cochlear implants may be losing their awkward external hardware

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February 10, 2014

The hard-to-miss external components of a traditional cochlear implant (Photo: Shutterstoc...

The hard-to-miss external components of a traditional cochlear implant (Photo: Shutterstock)

Thanks to the development of cochlear implants, many people who would otherwise be quite deaf are able to regain a limited sense of hearing. Unfortunately, the implants also incorporate external components that can get in the user's way, and that look ... well, that look like the user has something hooked up to their ear. Now, however, researchers at MIT, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary have developed a chip that could lead to cochlear implants that are entirely implanted.

With a regular cochlear implant, the external bits consist of a microphone, a speech processor/power source that enhances voices in the audio picked up by that microphone, and a transmitting coil that rests against the skin. The implanted components include a receiver that picks up the audio signal from the transmitter, a stimulator that converts that signal into electrical impulses, and electrodes that use those impulses to stimulate the auditory nerves.

Instead of a cochlear implant, some other patients (with a different type of hearing loss) have a middle ear implant. It fills in for a defective bone inside the ear, which relays vibrations from the eardrum to the cochlea. Drawing upon the principles used by these middle ear implants, a system utilizing the MIT chip should hopefully make all of the external parts of a cochlear implant unnecessary.

As opposed to a man-made microphone, it would utilize the natural microphone of the middle ear – this part of the ear is usually still intact in cochlear implant recipients. Like a middle ear implant, it would use a sensor to detect movement of the ossicle bones. The resulting signal from that sensor would be sent to the chip, which would also be implanted in the ear. It, in turn, would convert that signal into electrical impulses, which would travel to an electrode in the cochlea. The cochlea would then be stimulated, allowing the patient to hear.

The chip-based system could be completely implanted not just because it would be much smaller than all the parts of a conventional cochlear implant, but also because it would have considerably lower power requirements. This means it could be charged wirelessly in about two minutes, using a charger attached to a smartphone – a prototype already exists.

Installation of the system would require longer, more complex surgery than traditional implants, although the scientists believe that the procedure would get quicker as specialists got more familiar with it.

Another fully-internal alternative to regular cochlear implants is being developed at the University of Utah.

Source: MIT

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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3 Comments

This is great, I want one.

they could also make a wireless charging circuit so that a small charge pad could be placed on your pillow and recharge the device wirelessly while you sleep similar to wirelessly charging your cellphone or tablet.

Koala
11th February, 2014 @ 09:00 am PST

if you are able to gets cochlea ear implants would be a real big problem is that you cannot gets that for any reasons because you would be never know what may have happened to you when you are going for swimming or have a baths or a shower may have contact to cochlea ear implants would blown off like it would stopped hearing on anything and you would gets another operations again and again and again all over again.....and that is the problem.....because if you are willing gets a bionic hearing ear like the ones on the show called "six million dollar man" theme on TV shows in the past, but it would be a good thing to do without showing that type of cochlea ear implants.....because the bionic hearing ear would be possible to lets all the deaf and hard of hearing can have them better than the ones cannot have or used the cochlea ear imlpants....because of the problem is that IF anyones are aware of water like undersea or swimming or have a bath or shower can have......but it may be simple to be an ear infections and will be getting very very dizziness all the time and gets very very sick on your way to the hospital mentally much serious can happened to you.....:))))))) and that is the problem......:)

chopperbiker
11th February, 2014 @ 02:05 pm PST

As insurance companies consider these devices "non-essential", they are not covered under any insurance policies that I am aware of. And, most people who need them are up in years, and can't even afford a hearing aid, so I am sure there will not be a big demand for these devices among the masses. NO ONE CAN AFFORD IT!

Observer101
12th February, 2014 @ 09:54 am PST
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