Sensitive tool for the ear

2 min read

From Bärbel Hilbig

People with hearing problems are quickly isolated, cut off from conversations, also because those around them may not even be aware of their impairment. How hearing impaired people can hear again or simply hear better is the major topic of the researchers in the Lower Saxony Cluster of Excellence "Hearing4all". Hannover Medical School (MHH) is focusing on improvements to hearing implants.

One example: cochlear implants are an established technique for helping people with moderate to complete hearing loss. The electronic hearing prosthesis is surgically embedded in the skull bone behind the ear. "The most challenging step is to insert the attached electrode into the sensitive structure in the inner ear so that it then hangs freely in the cochlea," reports research group leader Thomas Rau. This has to be done very carefully.

Sensor helps with the operation

This is because a minimal injury could result in the patient losing their residual hearing. "Some patients therefore decide against an operation," says employee Georg Böttcher-Rebmann.

Until now, surgeons have had to rely on their instincts when inserting the thin and flexible electrode. However, the resistance they have to react to can hardly be felt. Georg Böttcher-Rebmann has developed a tool with a force sensor that measures the forces acting on the implant. The prototype is now being tested in a clinical trial with patients.

Four prestigious Clusters of Excellence were launched in Hanover in 2019.

The "Hearing4all" Cluster of Excellence is led by the University of Oldenburg, with the MHH and Leibniz University also playing a major role. In Hanover alone, 15 working groups are conducting research directly in the network, with others cooperating. At Leibniz University, for example, chemists are developing coatings for cochlear implants that store anti-inflammatory drugs and release them after surgery.

The federal and state governments have been paying 55 million euros for seven years since 2019, 23 million of which will go to Hanover. MHH has also raised almost 15 million euros in additional funding since then.

Source reference: HAZ from 02.04.2024, page 11 

Picture: Tim Schaarschmidt