If you are hearing impaired, or if you just like hearing about interesting new sensory gadgets, lend me your ears. Well, actually, lend them to neuroscientists at UNC Chapel Hill who have just opened the first clinical trial to test a new device which combines cochlear implant and hearing aid technology–in the same ear. The device (which hearkens to a small handgun with a droopy trigger worn behind the ear) is shown to the right and is called the Electro-Acoustic System (EAS). This past April, two hearing-impaired North Carolina adults were the first to receive the device, and now the trial is going to open up more widely.
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The multi-center Phase III clinical trial will determine if the device improves speech perception and sound quality for people with late-onset hearing loss who are able to hear low frequencies to a certain extent but have little or no hearing at higher frequencies. The hearing device is investigational and is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The device is designed to help people who have enough residual hearing that they would not be considered candidates for a traditional cochlear implant procedure.
“This population has fallen between the cracks in terms of the treatment options at our disposal,” said Dr. Craig Buchman, professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery and chief of neurotology and skull base surgery at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In such cases, hearing aids often provide unsatisfactory results in understanding speech and other important sounds. Traditional cochlear implant systems are also not ideal because they don’t allow users to benefit from their natural hearing abilities, Buchman explained.
“We hope to confirm earlier international findings that show EAS users benefit from the natural sound perceptions provided by acoustic amplification via a hearing aid in addition to electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve provided by cochlear implant,” Buchman said.
There are certainly a few drawbacks, such as high-dose antibiotics given to surgery patients and the delicate nature of the device, but overall the concept (integrating electrical stimulation with sound amplification) is very sound. I predict that future devices of this kind will come to replace traditional hearing aids and implants as the techniques and surgeries are perfected.
Traditional cochlear implants are interesting devices in their own right. They are surgically-implanted, battery-powered devices which directly stimulate the auditory nerve inside the cochlea through electric impulses. These impulses are in response to outside auditory information which is picked up by a microphone in the device. Over 100,000 people (worldwide) have a cochlear implant, and I’m sure we’ll see this number rise as people are living longer (more noise damage) and the technology gets better and can treat a wider range of impairments.
If you are interested in participating in the clinical study, here’s the contact information:
School of Medicine contacts: Les Lang, (919) 843-9687 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Stephanie Crayton, (919) 966-2860 or email@example.com