Implants: When technology makes sense – quite literally

Disease, injury, or a condition you were born with – reasons why some people must live without one or several of their five senses. Fortunately, there are many modern sensory aids that help replace one sense with another, which is especially the case when it comes to vision and hearing. Given technology’s advancements, can artificial or biological implants someday soon be a viable alternative?
Implants that protect the senses
The eyemate system features a micro-sensor that is implanted in the eye and measures
the intraocular pressure continuously. Patients use the company’s proprietary handheld device to make measurements on their own. The device then transmits the data to a secure database, allowing the eye doctor to monitor the condition remotely. Eyemate is implanted during cataract or glaucoma surgery. (Implandata Ophthalmic Products GmbH)

Implants replace senses
Implants can also help when a sense has already been lost or is compromised.
An ocular system comprises glasses with a build-in camera. The signals are sent to an electrode array implanted on the patient’s retinal surface. The array stimulates the optic nerve and allows people who are blind due to retinitis pigmentosa to see shapes and contrasting light and dark patterned images again. (Second Sight Medical)

For years, a similar concept comes into play to help patients with hearing loss. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is embedded in the cochlea where it electrically stimulates the auditory nerves. Unfortunately, today’s cochlear implants have a major drawback: “Implant wearers (thus) can find it difficult to distinguish some items.
The “OptoHear” project team (Prof. Moser) want to solve this problem with optical fibers, since “light can be more easily focused and spatially confined, certain regions in the cochlea can be stimulated better with light versus electrical pulses.” The method is currently still being explored in animal research. According to Moser, the first optical cochlear implant could be available as early as the late 2020s.

Author(s) Source
Roth T, 01.12.2021
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