New kind of hearing implant forthcoming

The German company Auric, known for its activities to shorten health care trajectories, is together with several research groups involved in the development of a new, tiny middle ear implant for people with average to severe hearing problems. It is called the Intracochlear Acoustic Stimulator (ICAS).

Researchers from the University Clinic Tübingen, the Centre for Science and healthcare Tübingen and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation (IPA) cooperate in the project. The costs of the new implant will, according to the researchers, be much lower than those of a normal implant. The federal Ministry for Education and Development (BMBF) boosts the development with a 900,000 euros subsidy.

Implants are until now from the outside or the inside anchored to the skull behind the ear, but this new one breaks with this tradition. The core of the new implant is the 'Rundfensterimplantat' (round window implant), presented by the consortium in 2012. Its sound converter is supposed to be smaller than a rice grain. Thanks to its size, the device can be placed directly in the connection between middle ear and inner ear, hence the name round window implant.

Director prof.dr. Hans-Peter Zenner of Tübingen University Clinic and dr. Theo Wesendahl of Auric indicate, that the present focus lies on integrating the modules of ICAS. In a conventional hearing aid, an infrared LED is mounted at the end of the tube that enters the hearing canal. This LED transmits light signals through the eardrum to the implant behind. The photo-voltaic (PV) receiver of the implant transforms the light into an electric current and activates a piezo-actor. This makes that the device through one of both windows is directly connected to the liquids of the inner ear. “The electrical signals can be directly transformed into waves”, a press release by Auric claims.

The researchers think the sound experience of the new implant 'clearly surpasses' the performance of classic implants, although the brain, like with all implants, will first have to adapt to this type of sound transmission.