Cochlear implants (CIs) are becoming the main way to solve a number of hearing difficulties. Doctors insert hard rubber hearing devices into a patient’s ear, turning the device to obtain the correct position. Even with the best medical precision, inner ear structures are sometimes torn. At best, the implanted device only achieves about 1.5 turns within the cochlear, while a 2.5-turn insertion is vital for maximum efficiency.

A calculated 3D micro-tentacle shape that can mimic the patient’s cochlear structure. A new device could minimize damage.
(Credit: In-Ho Cho)

Researchers have suggested a different approach. They want to develop a softer, smaller micro-robotic device in which a CI electrode array is embedded to mimic the electrical signals with which a cochlear structure communicates with the human nervous system. By a full 2.5-turn insertion, the patient’s nervous system will receive wider frequencies.

The researchers will use both machine and statistical learning to explore the vast array of possibilities for the new device structures. They will look to find which combinations or parameters are most fit for each patient’s structure with least damage. They also want to determine a comfortable amount of “hugging” (how the implant grips the structures surrounding it when placed inside a patient’s inner ear). They will then work to develop the device, as well as the method for inserting the CI electrode array into each device.