PRESS RELEASE – CHALMERS AND SAHLGRENSKA UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL
Functionally deaf patients can gain normal hearing with a new implant that replaces the middle ear. The unique invention from the Chalmers University of Technology has been approved for a clinical study. The first operation was performed on a patient in December 2012.
With the new hearing implant, developed at Chalmers in collaboration with Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, the patient has an operation to insert an implant slightly less than six centimetres long just behind the ear, under the skin and attached to the skull bone itself. The new technique uses the skull bone to transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear, so-called bone conduction.
“You hear 50 percent of your own voice through bone conduction, so you perceive this sound as quite natural”, says Professor Bo Håkansson, of the Department of Signals and Systems, Chalmers.
The new implant, BCI (Bone Conduction Implant), was developed by Bo Håkansson and his team of researchers. Unlike the type of bone-conduction device used today, the new hearing implant does not need to be anchored in the skull bone using a titanium screw through the skin. The patient has no need to fear losing the screw and there is no risk of skin infections arising around the fixing.
The first operation was performed on 5 December 2012 by Måns Eeg-Olofsson, Senior Physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, and went entirely according to plan.
“Once the implant was in place, we tested its function and everything seems to be working as intended so far. Now, the wound needs to heal for six weeks before we can turn the hearing sound processor on”, says Måns Eeg-Olofsson, who has been in charge of the medical aspects of the project for the past two years.
The technique has been designed to treat mechanical hearing loss in individuals who have been affected by chronic inflammation of the outer or middle ear, or bone disease, or who have congenital malformations of the outer ear, auditory canal or middle ear. Such people often have major problems with their hearing. Normal hearing aids, which compensate for neurological problems in the inner ear, rarely work for them. On the other hand, bone-anchored devices often provide a dramatic improvement.
In addition, the new device may also help people with impaired inner ear.
“Patients can probably have a neural impairment of down to 30-40 dB even in the cochlea. We are going to try to establish how much of an impairment can be tolerated through this clinical study”, says Bo Håkansson.
If the technique works, patients have even more to gain. Earlier tests indicate that the volume may be around 5 decibels higher and the quality of sound at high frequencies will be better with BCI than with previous bone-anchored techniques.
Now it’s soon time to activate the first patient’s implant, and adapt it to the patient’s hearing and wishes. Then hearing tests and checks will be performed roughly every three months until a year after the operation.
“At that point, we will end the process with a final X-ray examination and final hearing tests. If we get good early indications we will continue operating other patients during this spring already”, says Måns Eeg-Olofsson.
The researchers anticipate being able to present the first clinical results in early 2013. But when will the bone-conduction implant be ready for regular patients?
“According to our plans, it could happen within a year or two. For the new technique to quickly achieve widespread use, major investments are needed right now, at the development stage”, says Bo Håkansson.
Chalmers University of Technology and Sahlgrenska University Hospital working closely together since the 1970s
In 1977, three adult patients had titanium screws inserted into the bone behind the ear at the Ear Clinic of Sahlgrenska University Hospital. This was the starting point for close, long-lasting cooperation between Professor Bo Håkansson, Associate Professor and Ear Specialist Anders Tjellström and Professor P-I Brånemark, renowned for his concept of permanently anchoring implants in the bone, known as osseointegrated implants.
The BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) technique has undergone gradual refinement since then and is today helping more than 100,000 patients worldwide to better hearing – and the number is rising. The BAHA technique has never gained so much international recognition as it has today, one success factor being the cross-discipline teamwork that has been ongoing in Gothenburg without interruption for more than 35 years.
More on the BCI project
In addition to Bo Håkansson and Måns Eeg-Olofsson, Doctor Sabine Reinfeldt and doctoral students Hamidreza Taghavi and Karl-Johan Fredén Jansson of the research team at the Department of Signals and Systems, Chalmers, together with Associate Professor Anders Tjellström and Joacim Stalfors, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and Professor Carina Johansson, of the Institute of Odontology at Gothenburg University, are involved in the project.
The research has been financed via funds from Vinnova (Swedish Research Council for Innovation Systems), the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Association of Hard of Hearing People (HRF), R&D grants from the Regional Board, the Acta Oto-Laryngologica Foundation, the Stinger Fund, the Gothenburg Medical Society and the Kristina Stenborg Foundation.
For more information, please contact:
Bo Håkansson, Department of Signals and Systems, Chalmers University of
Technology, +46-31-772 18 07, +46-707-85 32 94; firstname.lastname@example.org
Måns Eeg-Olofsson, Senior Physician, Ear, Nose and Throat Department, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, +46-31-342 91 56; email@example.com
Chalmers University of Technology conducts research and offers education in technology, science and architecture with a sustainable future as its global vision. Chalmers is well-known for providing an effective environment for innovation and has eight priority areas of international significance – Built Environment, Energy, Information and Communication Technology, Life Science, Materials Science, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Production, and Transportation. Situated in Gothenburg, Sweden, Chalmers has 11,000 full-time students and 2,500 employees.