What if we could get an Artificial Prosthetic Inner Ear to Help us Hear?

Thinking about Artificial Prosthetic Ears

I was listening to NPR today on Artificial limbs and how engineers and surgeons can work with neurons and muscles, splicing them back together with the artificial limb.  When a person then wants to use their artificial limb all they do is think about it and the hand opens and closes.  It is wired to the brain already so nothing more needs to be done than to think about it.  The ability to do nano surgery with the help of engineers is mind blowing.  It got me thinking about other ailments.

Thinking out of the box about hearing and hearing loss I started pondering the following ideas.   We know that most hearing loss is caused by either our sensory system hair cells on the cochlea and or nerve damage.   Would it be possible to replace the cochlea with another cochlea that isn’t damaged or one that is artificial, and connect it to the nerve fibers of the 8th cranial nerve?   Are the nerve fibers of the auditory and vestibular nerve so much smaller than the nerve fibers in an arm or leg?

The cochlea is a very complex organ.

It has many different types of sensory cells.  Each sensory cell is connected to one particular nerve cell.  Each nerve cell is placed so perfectly in line with these sensory cells so that the frequency or pitch of the sound is carried in order from low to high or high to low depending on which end you start with along the membrane to the brain.  The cochlea also has different chambers that carry different fluids that can not be mixed together.  All these fluids are balanced with the right chemical environment for the health of the sensory system.  It would be very hard to recreate and balance out such a delicate system.   Replacing a nerve isn’t done yet and so that is not feasible.  You see, often the 8th nerve is damaged by loud sounds, drugs or some other component.  Currently, we don’t have diagnostic technology to tweeze apart if it is the sensory or nerve system that is damaged.

Is Hearing Technology Far Behind other Types of Technology?

Last week a patient of mine who studies computer science asked why hearing technology is so far behind everything else.   Listening to NPR and thinking about his question got me pondering if we are really behind and if we could do more what would it be.   Clearly, we know an artificial limb is much different than a complex sensory system.  It seems like a neat idea to plant something inside our ears, or even replace it with a better system.

Realizing that replacing a complicated system isn’t going to be easy I started asking myself, is hearing technology really THAT far behind all other types of technology and I came to the conclusion that really it is not!  Although we can’t cure hearing by seeing a surgeon or taking some drugs/drops to start sensory growth again, we can wear a very small device that has little tiny computer chips that can PICK UP and PROCESS Speech in very sophisticated manners with beam type technology, looking for speech and trying to minimize the noise.  Some of the technology has duel processors and blue tooth streaming capabilities connecting to phones, and other streaming pieces.

And guess what, my patient who teaches computer science and thought hearing devices are behind the times, was ultimately impressed with what it could do for him.  He was super happy most and that of all that no one could see the aid and how tiny it was behind his ear.   Kudos to our engineers in hearing aid development!

Stay tuned for more thinking out of the box as we continue down this technology ride!  Cheers,  Kim

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