At the end of 2012, surgery to insert a newly designed implant for the middle ear was performed for the first time. The implant is designed to help restore hearing to those who are functionally deaf.

The implant uses the skull bones to conduct sound vibrations, and thus the implant needs to be placed directly against the skull by going in behind the ear with an implant of approximately six millimeters placed under the skin.

The bones were a clear solution for producing sound, as it was already known that about half of what we perceive of our own voices is heard through vibrations in the skull. Thus the implant is being called the Bone Conduction Implant (or BCI).

This is not of course the first hearing implant that uses bone conduction – it is however the first that doesn’t require a screw made of titanium to be inserted through the flesh to attach the implant to the skull.

This cuts down on the likelihood of complications resulting from loss of the screw or infections at the implant site. Furthermore, the quality of sound seems to be better with the volume several decibels higher – it will also allow the patient to hear higher frequencies with better sound quality than previous implants.

The first operation seems to have been a success – everything went smoothly and appears to be in working order. The six week recovery period is almost complete at which point the part that should allow the patient to hear can be turned on, upon which the final verdict on the success of the procedure will be known.

These devices will prove particularly vital for those who have hearing damage to the outer and middle ear. Those with inner ear hearing loss can usually benefit from a hearing aid – however, this often fails to help problems in other parts of the ear which involve damage that is more structural than neurological.

Research continues with the aim of understanding how the implant could help those with cochlear damage. This would also make it effective for individuals whose hearing problems begin in the inner ear, making the device versatile in its treatment of hearing loss.

If the results of the hearing test go well after turning on the device this month, further study will continue with more procedures performed in Spring of 2013.