A team of hearing and communication experts led by the Keck School of Medicine of USC successfully implanted an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) device in four children who previously could not hear.

Traditional cochlear implants cannot help the small population of individuals who do not have a cochlear, or hearing, nerve. The ABI stimulates neurons directly at the human brainstem, bypassing the inner ear entirely.

In the United States, the ABI is approved for use only in patients 12 years or older with neurofibromatosis type II, an inherited disease that causes a non-malignant brain tumor on the hearing nerve. The device, however, has shown limited effectiveness in adults.

Scientists believe that the ABI would be more effective in younger children, when their brains are more adaptable. The clinical trial will attempt to prove that the surgery is safe in young children and allow researchers to study how the brain develops over time and how it learns to hear sound and develop speech.