May 17, 2021 – (Innsbruck, Austria) – People with vestibular (balance) dysfunction experience a substantially reduced quality of life. The Austrian company MED-EL, a global innovation leader in hearing solutions, is in continued collaboration with a consortium of established academic and industrial partners in Tyrol that focuses on modelling and understanding the vestibular system and evaluating the potential success of a vestibular implant.
Individuals with vestibular dysfunction are at risk of falling, are unable to stabilize images on the retina during head movement and face increased difficulty in performing everyday tasks. This leads to a substantial detriment to their quality of life as well as significant costs related to their long-term care. One approach to treat bilateral vestibular loss is by means of a vestibular prosthesis that mimics natural function by stimulating the sensory nerves of the vestibular system.
Following the success of cochlear implants, intensive research into a vestibular implant for the last ten years, supported by MED-EL, has resulted in the implantation of patients with investigational devices in Europe and the US. Alongside very promising results from those studies, considerable research and development effort is required to optimize such a device and identify suitable patient groups that could gain significant benefit.
MED-EL’s research agreement with local academic and industry partners, entitled "eVITA", started in 2018 and is funded by the Federal state of Tyrol with-in the K-Regio program and co-funded by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRE). It will conclude in 2021.
Alongside MED-EL, the Medical University of Innsbruck and the private university UMIT in Hall, in particular the Institute of Electric and Biomedical Engineering (IEBE), and the Institute of Biomedical Image Analysis (IBIA), are involved as academic partners researching in the field of micro-anatomical, electrical and statistical modelling of the inner ear. Sistro Präzisionsmechanik GmbH and LaiTronic GmbH are the industry partners involved in this collaboration. Innsbruck-based LaiTronic develops a motion-capture system for the objective analysis of gait of people with vestibular loss, while Sistro in Hall produces the challenging moulds required for the custom-made complex electrode arrays designed specifically for the vestibular system.
The existing prior knowledge within the consortium serves well in this project. It allows to identify optimal approaches to reach all vestibular sensory organs for restoring the complete perception of head rotation, acceleration and gravity by means of specially designed electrodes. This can only be achieved through interdisciplinary efforts by combining relevant competences in the fields of biomedical informatics, microanatomy and physiology of the inner ear.
Challenges in the project include keeping the fragile structures of the inner ear intact during implantation, thereby avoiding the potential risk of hearing loss. Neighboring non-target neural structures must not be stimulated either. Evaluation of the variations in the microanatomy of the vestibular system together with computer simulations of electrical performance should help to identify suitable positions and stimulation waveform shapes, allowing for an optimized electrode design that delivers maximum benefit to as many patients as possible.
MED-EL Medical Electronics, a leader in implantable hearing solutions, is driven by a mission to overcome hearing loss as a barrier to communication. The Austrian-based, privately owned business was co-founded by industry pioneers Ingeborg and Erwin Hochmair, whose ground-breaking research led to the development of the world’s first micro-electronic multi-channel cochlear implant (CI), which was successfully implanted in 1977 and was the basis for what is known as the modern CI today. This laid the foundation for the successful growth of the company in 1990, when they hired their first employees. To date, MED-EL has grown to more than 2,200 employees from around 75 nations and has 30 locations worldwide.
The company offers the widest range of implantable and non-implantable solutions to treat all types of hearing loss, enabling people in 124 countries enjoy the gift of hearing with the help of a MED-EL device. MED-EL’s hearing solutions include cochlear and middle ear implant systems, a combined Electric Acoustic Stimulation hearing implant system, auditory brainstem implants as well as surgical and non-surgical bone conduction devices. www.medel.com
Doz. DI Dr DDr med. h.c. Ingeborg Hochmair
MED-EL Medical Electronics
T: +43 5 7788-0