Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cochlear Implant Research

Many cochlear implant users may soon be able to easily modify the settings on their hearing devices using a smartphone interface such as a PDA. The PDA is easily adaptable to new and emerging technologies without the need to change or build new hardware. The interface used between mobile devices and cochlear implants could replace the speech processor that cochlear implant users now wear behind the ear.

An implant has:

• A Microphone which picks up sound from the environment
• A Speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone
• A Transmitter and receiver/stimulator which receives signals from the speech processor and converts the signals into electric impulses
• An electrode array to collect impulses from the stimulator and then sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve

The new technology will provide flexibility so that cochlear implant users will be able to change the programs in their device with a great deal of flexibility. The new technology will also enable cochlear implant users to get additional help by recording speech and other environmental sounds that they find particularly challenging.

Ten healthcare and research facilities are slated to participate in clinical trials of the technology pending FDA approval, reports Dr. Philip Loizou, Director of the Cochlear Implant Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas and Principal Investigator for the $2.5 million project funded by NIH.

The University of California at Irvine in their Cochlear Implant Center are doing some other cutting edge collaborative research to develop the first implantable device to replace the balance function, designing a new generation of cochlear implant electrodes, and developing a cochlear implant sound simulator.

Other ongoing research by the NIH National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that researchers in the field are working on using a shortened electrode array inserted into a portion of the cochlear for individuals whose hearing loss is limited to the higher frequencies.

Other studies are exploring how to make a cochlear implant convey the sounds of speech more clearly, and researchers are also looking at the potential benefits of pairing a cochlear implant in one ear with either another cochlear implant or a hearing aid in the other ear.