Has MIT found the tiny solution to enable a fully internalised hearing implant?

The microphone is one of the main obstacles in the way of developing a fully internalised cochlear implant. But a multidisciplinary team of researchers at MIT, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School, and Columbia University is well on the way to finding the right materials, miniaturisation, and location for this tiny instrument sensitive to sound waves. The team has produced an implantable microphone that performs as well as commercial external hearing aid microphones.

Since cochlear implants today are only partially implanted, relying on external hardware  on the side of the head, users face restrictions. They can’t swim, exercise, or sleep while wearing an external unit. For some, it means they may forgo an implant altogether.

Over a year of research, the team developed a prototype microphone using biocompatible piezoelectric material that generates an electric charge when compressed or stretched, such as when measuring miniscule movements on the underside of the ear drum. And the exact place to locate such an instrument is one of the major puzzles, but the researchers have targeted a part of the middle ear called the umbo, the central, most inverted portion of the tympanic membrane. The umbo vibrates unidirectionally (inward and outward), making it easier to sense these simple movements.

The team has met an array of other difficulties with determination and ingenuity. They are now getting ready to launch live animal studies, which will also help them determine how the UmboMic responds to being implanted. Source: MIT News