Vol. 18 Issue 6
Future of auditory technology
One in three adults over age 65 has a significant hearing loss. As the number of Americans in that age group more than doubles between now and 2030, the number of people who will need treatment for hearing loss will increase. Researchers at the House Ear Institute (HEI), in Los Angeles, CA, are anticipating this increase by developing two new projects.
HEI is developing the Hearing Aid Assessment Project (HAAP) to survey the needs of hearing aid users and the current technologies available. The second project involves the NanoEAR, a prosthetic device that is being designed to eliminate hearing impairment through a combination of tissue engineering and nanotechnology.
The HAAP research team is creating assessment tools and procedures to help patients and their audiologists better determine if the hearing aid technology they are considering meets their individual needs.
Because the hearing needs of each patient can never be completely met by hearing aids that amplify sound, the goal of the NanoEAR effort is to develop a surgically implanted device that simulates the neuromechanical function of the cochlea and makes physiological connections to the auditory nerve.
Currently, the closest thing to this auditory device on the market is a cochlear implant. While a cochlear implant performs the function that sensory cells within the cochlea would perform if they were working properly, the NanoEAR would perform the functions of the entire cochlea, reproducing near-normal frequency selectivity and sensitivity. It also would eliminate the need for batteries and visible external components.
While none of the scientific or technological elements necessary to develop the NanoEAR is unique on its own, the integration of all the elements into one prosthetic device that restores hearing is a novel objective.
"Achieving success through the merging of human tissue with artificial technology will require collaboration between many scientific disciplines," said HEI researcher Sigfrid Soli, PhD. "While development of the NanoEAR is still years away, our goal is to develop the device when aging boomers and record numbers of people in need of new auditory technology will be at an all-time high."
HAAP has received support from the Daniels Fund and the Veneklasen Research Foundation. HEI is seeking partnerships for the NanoEAR project through interested individuals, corporations and foundations.