Worldwide researchers at the University of Utah have been given a $9.7 million grant to create a surgical procedure and implantable device for the deaf. The goal is to produce for them a better sound than other traditional hearing loss treatments.
This new procedure focuses on utilizing a new version of the Utah Electrode Array architecture. It is a brain-computer interfacbrae that was created by University of Utah Biomedical Engineering Professor Emeritus Richard Normann. It can send and receive electrical brain impulses. The version that will be utilized is a variant of the Utah Slanted Electrode Array, which is used for peripheral nerves.
Versions of this Utah Electrode Array are being developed to allow amputees to hear high-resolution sounds and to move prosthetic limbs with their mind. These work better than cochlear implants and this new procedure, being funded by a five-year grant, could also help others that are not normally cochlear implant candidates. This is due to the assembly of the Utah Electrode Array being implanted directly to the auditory nerve of the patient rather than the patient’s cochlea. It is a small silicon chip, 1.2 x 1.8 mm, which is connected to a stimulator device and attached to wires.
University of Utah Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Florian Solzbacher said this device leads to a better experience of sound for the user.
“You have much higher resolution of sound, which means you can cover more individual frequencies and have better tonal range,” Solzbacher said. “That should allow you to get more realistic hearing.”
An additional benefit to this tech is that it can be connected to existing normal hearing aids used in cochlear implants via the electrode array. There’s no requirement for the specialty devices. It’s almost as cool as a signal system. Within the body, this product must be designed to last 30 years.
Previously, cochlear implants were used to treat many patients who were deaf. A tiny device would be put in the cochlea, an inner ear spiral cavity, and the auditory nerve would be stimulated. The anatomy of some patients and other malformations prevent these implants from working sometimes. The sounds might not be very good for those who do hear. This can prevent them from understanding voices in a noisy room or distinguishing music.
As others have developed a signal system, the team will focus their first three years on technological and surgical procedure development to make sure it is safe above all else. Three patients with hearing loss will test the technology during the final two years. The team includes researchers from everywhere such as the University of Minnesota to the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, which is the research brand for Northwell Health in New York.
European researchers from the Hannover Medical School, Hannover Clinical Trial Center, the International Neuroscience Institute in Hannover, and MED-EL in Austria will be a part of the team. The development of the Utah Electrode Array began in the 1980s. It has been used in research for the creation of a bionic eye that will help the blind see again, pain modulation, to regulate epilepsy, for neural disorders like Alzheimer’s, and for control over one’s bladder. The applications of this technology mean promising things for the future.
About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, consumer electronics, and the entertainment industry.