A new generation of optical cochlear implants is expected to improve hearing performance

Cochlear implants are not only used in children born deaf, but increasingly also in adults with hearing loss. The implants take over the function of the cochlea and bypass the sensory cells.
Thus, they directly stimulate the nerve cells of the auditory nerve. A speech processor breaks down sound into its frequencies and transmits the frequency, time and volume information to the stimulator. After the insertion of electrical cochlear implants, patients have to relearn how to hear because the small number of electrodes severely limits the perception of different pitches. This is not always easy and not all patients are happy with the implants in the end.
As with the conventional electrical cochlear implant, the optical method breaks down sound into frequency bands, but now into many more and finer ones: 64 light guides assigned to the frequency bands transmit light into the inner ear. In this way, the implants provide a hearing impression even when no sensory cells are intact.
Initial tests with computer simulations and rodents show that the technology works. For low and medium volumes, the differentiation of pitches is hardly distinguishable from normal hearing. The first study in humans is scheduled to begin in 2026.
Author(s) Source
Pietschmann C, Moser T Max-Planck-Gesellschaft 22.12.2022 (german original)
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