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Design prototype chip makes possible a fully implantable cochlear implant

Researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a prototype system-on-chip (SoC) that could make possible a fully implanted cochlear implant. They will present their findings on Feb. 11at the IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

A cochlear implant is a device that electronically stimulates the auditory nerve to restore hearing in people with profound hearing loss. Conventional cochlear implants are made up of an external unit with a microphone and sound processer to pick up and encode sound, and an internal unit that is seated in the skull and connected to an electrode array inserted into the cochlea. The external unit raises concerns in some individuals with social stigma and has limited use in the shower or during water sports.

"In addition to the cosmetic aspect of an invisible cochlear implant, a potential major functional benefit is that it can facilitate sound localization. Our system relies on a sound sensor located in the middle ear so that the user can benefit from directional cues provided by the auricle and ear canal. Conventional cochlear implants detect sound by a microphone located outside of the ear so that important directional cues are lost," said Konstantina Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D., Mass. Eye and Ear otologist who co-led the study with Anantha Chandrakasan, Ph.D., MIT head of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "Our long-term goal is to develop a fully implantable cochlear implant. To facilitate that development, we have developed the SoC and tested it in ears of human cadavers."

In addition, the SoC was designed to require lower power sound processing and auditory nerve stimulation to enable operation from an implantable battery that is wirelessly recharged once daily.

This project was a collaboration between the following researchers at MIT, Harvard Medical School and Mass. Eye and Ear: Marcus Yip, Rui Yin, Hideko Heidi Nakajima, Konstantina Stankovic and Anantha Chadrakasan.

More details about the SoC project are included in a paper describing the finding.

About Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Mass. Eye and Ear clinicians and scientists are driven by a mission to find cures for blindness, deafness and diseases of the head and neck. After uniting with Schepens Eye Research Institute Mass. Eye and Ear in Boston became the world's largest vision and hearing research center, offering hope and healing to patients everywhere through discovery and innovation. Mass. Eye and Ear is a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and trains future medical leaders in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, through residency as well as clinical and research fellowships. Internationally acclaimed since its founding in 1824, Mass. Eye and Ear employs full-time, board-certified physicians who offer high-quality and affordable specialty care that ranges from the routine to the very complex. U.S. News & World Report's "Best Hospitals Survey" has consistently ranked the Mass. Eye and Ear Departments of Otolaryngology and Ophthalmology one of the top hospitals in the nation.

Mary Leach | EurekAlert!
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