EPFL Is Developing Next-Generation Soft Hearing Implants

The extremely flexible implant adheres nicely to the curved surface area of the acoustic brainstem© 2019 EPFL

Working with clinicians from Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, a group of EPFL scientists has actually established a conformable electrode implant that will enable individuals with an inefficient inner ear to hear once again. This brand-new gadget might change existing acoustic brainstem implants, which have a variety of imperfections.

Close to half a million individuals around the globe struggle with a severe hearing disability. Sometimes, they can discover relief in cochlear and other kinds of implants. Yet these gadgets do not assist individuals whose inner ear is harmed or whose acoustic nerve does not work appropriately.

For these clients to recuperate their sense of hearing, electrical signals need to be sent out straight to the acoustic brainstem. The neuroprosthetic utilized for this function is called an acoustic brainstem implant, or ABI. Yet the results of ABIs are blended and, in a lot of cases, clients recuperate just sound understanding. What’s more, scientific ABIs are stiff and cannot adhere specifically to the curvature of the acoustic brainstem.

To resolve this issue, Stéphanie Lacour’s group at EPFL’s Laboratory for Soft BioElectronic Interface (LSBI) dealt with clinicians from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear to establish a soft electronic user interface. The extremely flexible implant adheres nicely to the curved surface area of the acoustic brainstem and can for that reason send out extremely targeted electrical signals. It has actually been checked effectively on mice – the implant has an area just 0.25 mm2 – and has actually now been produced at a size ideal for human usage and in a type that works with present surgical strategies. It will go through additional research study in preparation for human trials. The scientists’ research study was simply released in Science Translational Medicine.

Inspired by Japanese cutouts

The brand-new implant includes a conformable selection of platinum electrodes enclosed in silicone. “We focused on platinum because it’s already used widely in clinical settings,” states Nicolas Vachicouras, a post-doc at EPFL’s School of Engineering and the short article’s lead author.

Unfortunately, platinum is a stiff metal that cannot be misshaped without being harmed. The scientists conquered this obstacle by using the standard Japanese paper-cutting strategy called kirigami, engraving a Y-shaped pattern into metalized plastic sectors. Then they machined the metal at the micron scale (one micron = one thousandth of a millimeter), utilizing strategies typically discovered in the microfabrication of incorporated circuits. The outcome is an extremely certified and extremely conductive electrode implant.

The EPFL scientists are currently considering other applications. “The properties of our device would be of value for all sorts of implantable neuroprosthetics,” states Stéphanie Lacour, “such as those used to stimulate or record neural activity in the spine, brain or even peripheral nerves.”

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