Direct electrical stimulation of the auditory brainstem via an implant is currently required for patients with inner ear damage to restore their hearing. Whilst the success of these implants have so far been limited, researchers based in Switzerland have developed a new soft hearing implant that can adapt to the curvature of the auditory brainstem allowing targeted electrical signals to be sent.
Developed by engineers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the new implant is made from a pliable platinum that can’t be distorted without being damaged. Platinum electrodes are encased in silicone, and the team machined the metal at the micron scale using techniques found in microfabrication of integrated circuits, giving a very compliant and highly conductive electrode implant.
“Hearing could be restored thanks to curved brainstem implant“
“Our device would be of value for all sorts of implantable neuroprosthetics, especially for those that are used to stimulate or record activity in the spine, brain and peripheral nerves,” said Stéphanie Lacour, heads of EPFL’s Laboratory for Soft BioElectronic Interface.
The Soft BioElectronic Interface team have been working with clinician from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear to develop the device. Having only been tested on mice currently, the implant has now been produced for human use, and according to the researcher, other applications for the implant are being explored.